They Clearcut the Tunnel of Love.

SOME NIGHTS, I dream of rivers. Ones I have floated and others that exist only in dreams of a distant past. Last winter was a hard one. In places, the river has changed and waits to be discovered, while parts remain the same as they have been for decades.

We’ll never forget one stretch of the Hoh River that flowed deep beneath an overhanging forest of alder trees. When it was hot and sunny, the alder forest was a cool and shady refuge. When it was raining, the trees were like a giant umbrella shielding us from the deluge.

Birds of all sorts lived in the alders and, later in the summer, it was not unusual to see a nest of what could be the most dangerous critters on the Olympic Peninsula, the bald-faced hornets. They allowed us to pass unmolested as long as we didn’t bother them. We didn’t.

One day, we were floating under the alders with a quiet young couple in the front of the raft. We were watching a pair of eagles circling far above. Just then, another eagle swooped out of the alders right above us and caught a fish in the river.

The eagle landed on a log on the shore to eat the fish while a pair of crows dive-bombed just for fun. I said we’re going to sit and watch the eagle eat the fish if they didn’t have anything better to do. They didn’t.

Then the young couple put down their paddles and sat together in the center of the raft.

He gave her something, and she started crying. Then she said yes, and he started crying.

Things were getting weird, so I asked them what the heck was going on up there.

He said he asked her to marry him, and she said yes, so I started crying. I told them that by the powers vested in me as captain of the ship I could get them hitched right then and there, but they were going to plan a big family wedding back home.

So, I started singing the theme from the “Love Boat” and rowed them down the river. We called that patch of alder trees hanging over the river the “Tunnel of Love” ever since. It was a landmark that survived a half-century of floods filled with logs hurtling down the river leaving skid marks in the tunnel of love ten feet over our heads. until last week.

That was when contractors for the Federal Highway Administration clearcut the tunnel of love.

They yarded the logs through the beds of the spawning steelhead that had been shaded by the trees — all in an effort to put concrete log jams in the river.

I went down to the river to give these riparian setback violators a piece of my mind but they had a permit issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, you know, the agency that just shut down the Hoh River to even catch and release fishing for steelhead. So I figured if you can’t beat them ask them for a job. I figured if you can’t beat them ask them for a job.

So, I did — a “greenwashing” job.

Greenwashing is a branding makeover where a product or service is presented as environment-friendly when it is in fact, bad for the environment.

Examples abound.

Globally, Volkswagen bragged about their eco-friendly vehicles, while their engines emitted 40 times the allowable pollutants.

Locally, logging companies spray herbicides in clearcuts and call it, “conifer release.”

Currently, the Federal Highway Administration insists concrete is a more environmentally friendly choice than rocks along the Hoh River.

It all makes perfect sense.

If salmon and steelhead are crushed in their nests by concrete, even more money can be spent mitigating the effects with a greenwashing rebranding program of monetized extinction.

With the miracle of greenwashing, our rivers are worth more dead than alive. I made my pitch, but I didn’t get the job.

 

My Life Sucks.

My life sucks. Ever since they shut down the fishing season. Without fishing, my life has had no meaning. Each day became a long dreary exercise that stretched to a limitless bleak horizon with absolutely no possibility of catching a fish. Part of the trauma was the fact that they shut down even catch-and-release fishing before they counted the fish. Civilized countries like Alaska have sonar devices in their rivers that tell the fisheries managers how many fish are going up the river. Here in Washington, we’ll use any excuse to shut down the fishing.

For example, there’s a hot bite for blackmouth salmon in Sekiu right now. So, they’ll probably shut it down early because fishing is too good. Otherwise, they would shut it down because fishing is bad. Either way, our fishing season is subject to political pressures far beyond the scope of the best available science. People who fish are expendable enemies of the state. We’re all supposed to take up bird watching. This is unfortunate for those of us who believe that every day spent fishing is a day not counted against the span of our lives.

It’s even worse for those who make a living on the water. There is no better way. Guides have the best stories. But when it’s over, there’s no point in waiting around. It’s time to move on to bleaker pastures. It’s hard because of the way the other guides looked up to me and worshipped me like a god in their own simple way. I was a role model. Now, I am a failure forced by circumstances beyond my control to get a real job.

So, I did. I hired on as a food server at a ritzy place with an exclusive clientele. Things went OK at first, and I have to say, the ladies seemed to like me. It was nice to be appreciated. The cuisine was exquisite, and the setting sublime. However, servers do not set the menu. There were changes amid rumors of a budget cut to the food bill. I was blamed. The response was immediate.

A customer took one bite of her meal, gave me a dirty look and immediately turned and walked out an open gate. This had never happened before! It was unheard of. Imagine how it made me feel. I was doing my darndest to make the best out of a difficult situation, but no, everyone’s a food critic. Some of these ladies could have stood to lose a few pounds, but they attacked their meals like animals and fought over biscuits even though there was plenty to go around. Then the menu changed, and things got a lot ugly.

Scientists have theorized that many personality disorders could be the result of a too-rich diet, and I became convinced that’s what I was seeing. After binging on eastern Washington alfalfa all winter, the ladies went cold-turkey onto a domestic grass hay. It was beautiful. Each bale smelled like a summer morning in a meadow. Redolent of timothy with hints of native red top grasses, the bales were gourmet but not alfalfa, aka, the crack cocaine of fodder.

I tried mixing the alfalfa with the grass hay like I needed another chore. That made them mad. I almost got stomped. They wouldn’t have noticed until the following breakfast service when they’d wonder where the ape with the hay was.

I had to outsmart the cows. I’m still working on it. Fortunately, springtime is on the way. Grass is growing, and with luck, I’ll be unemployed just in time for salmon season.

Are the Russians Coming?

It was another tough week in the news with a feeling of history being repeated as Stalin’s “Iron Curtain” morphed into Putin’s pipe dream of recreating the glory of the Soviet Union by reclaiming former territories — causing questions to be asked like, “Didn’t Russia own Alaska?”

Yes. The implications are disturbing.

In 1728, Vitus Bering, a Dane working for the Russian Navy, discovered Asia was separated from North America by a Strait that bears his name. In 1741, Bering found the coast of southeast Alaska while looking for furs and local tribes they could “bring under a sovereign hand” and tax. They did this by taking the women and children hostage, giving the men fox traps and telling them they could see their families again if they brought in enough furs and provisions, and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The accidental discovery in the 1700s that a few scraps of metal, some glass beads or an article of disease-infected clothing could be traded on the Northwest Coast for sea otter pelts worth a fortune in China had set off the treachery and slaughter that historians euphemistically refer to as the fur trade. Eventually, metal, alcohol, gunpowder and disease were introduced to the stone-age cultures of Alaska and the Northwest Coast with devastating results.

In 1799, the Russian American Company was chartered with a mission of establishing trade with the natives, converting them to the Russian Orthodox Church, hunting fur and colonizing settlements as far south as Baja, Calif. By then, the Russians had slaughtered, pillaged and enslaved their way East from the Aleutian Islands to make their capitol at New Archangel.

The Tlingit resented the Russians for taking their land and using their enemies, the Aleut, to exterminate the sea otter and disrupt traditional trade patterns between the tribes. In 1802, the Tlingit burned the Russian fort. In 1804, Russian-American Company Manager Alexander Baranov returned and burned the Tlingit Town, Noow Tlein, and built a new fort, Novo Arkhangelsk or what we call Sitka today.

It was a great land for furs, but too far north for agriculture. In 1808, Baranov sent the Russian ship S.V. Nikolai under Navigator Nikolai Bulygin from Sitka to claim land for an agricultural colony somewhere south of Vancouver Island. The S.V. Nikolai was thought to have been purchased in Hawaii from King Kamehameha, probably in exchange for weapons used in his bloody consolidation of the Hawaiian Islands under his control. At the time, Hawaii was a sanctuary where Europeans could avoid the harsh North American winter, recover from scurvy and obtain sandalwood.The Nikolai wrecked at La Push. The survivors endured a running battle with the Quileute and Hoh people. The Russians built a stockade on the Hoh River, where they were eventually captured. Of the original crew of 22, 13 survivors were ransomed by the American Captain Brown of the brig Lydia.

This was a devastating loss to the Russians, who decided to head farther south to Bodega Bay, establishing Fort Ross in 1812. It was an agricultural colony that flourished until 1841, when the Russians bought their food from the Hudson Bay Company at Fort Vancouver and Fort Langley. By 1867, the expense of the Crimean War, the near extinction of the sea otter and the hostility of the Tlingit convinced Russia to sell Alaska to the United States.

Leaving us today wondering, what would happen if Russia tried to reclaim lands it once owned in Alaska, California, Hawaii and the Hoh River? It’s something to think about before protesting the U.S. Navy F-18’s flying over the Olympic Peninsula.

More Research is Needed.

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news, where this column’s prediction that the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife would execute an emergency closure to end steelhead fishing on the Olympic Peninsula came to pass, right on schedule. You didn’t have to be a psychic to figure that one out. Closing fishing seasons is the standard go-to tactic for WDFW when all their other fisheries management scams fail.

One of the reasons given for this closure was the low state of the water in our West End rivers after a month of no rain. This is a temperate rainforest. When the rain stops, the rivers drop to mere trickles of their former selves. Salmon and steelhead are reluctant to return upstream, to the rivers where they were born, when there is no water in the river. They have to swim. Duh. Now, after the closure, it’s raining, and the rivers are high and muddy. Then, there was the bizarre situation where the state had closed almost every other river in the state to even catch-and-release fishing, while the rivers of the Peninsula were left open.

This crowded the last remaining hardcore steelhead anglers from all over the Western United States and beyond into smaller and smaller areas where they could be studied and monitored with drones, trail cams and teams of fish cops patrolling the water. This should have served as a warning.

Once the state started studying steelhead anglers, we knew it would be only a matter of time before we would be as endangered as the fish we were trying to catch. We should have known what was coming. It may be just a coincidence, but every other creature that the state of Washington is “studying,” from the marbled murrelet to the spotted owl, to the Southern Resident Orca, and even our iconic Olympic marmots, have had their populations decline while they were being studied.

Meanwhile, scientists have long studied the effects of overcrowding on mice and rats in the laboratory. The results give us a chilling perspective on human behavior. Back in the 1960s, a researcher named John Calhoun created a rat utopia and a mouse paradise with abundant food, where the rodents were free to overpopulate. This quickly lead to over-crowding, disputes over available food and seemingly sinister anti-social behavior which Calhoun termed, “behavioral sinks.” Over time, the surviving rodents displayed a lack of interest in sex and raising their young. While Calhoun’s research is still being debated, one can’t help but wonder if humans would behave in the same way, given the same conditions.

Similarly, the Olympic Peninsula was once described as a fishing paradise and a steelhead utopia. As more and more anglers were confined into a smaller area by the scientists, the overcrowding led to disputes over fish and other anti-social behaviors. This led to the row versus wade dispute. Wading anglers, who were stomping steelhead eggs into the gravel, wanted to ban boat anglers to keep them from dragging their anchors through the same gravel.

Overcrowding lead to dangerous incidents. Anglers flipped their boats in desperate attempts to fish rivers they were not capable of rowing and had to be rescued.

A striking parallel to Calhoun’s experiment was observed in the demographics of the surviving anglers on our rivers, where very few females and almost no juveniles were observed fishing for steelhead. This could indicate that the surviving anglers, like the surviving rats, had lost interest in sex and raising their young. Whether this represents a behavioral sink or an evolutionary trend is unsure. More research is needed.