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She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain


Fishing the North Platte River out of Casper Wyoming: check!

Not that fly fishing for trout in Montana or Wyoming was high on my bucket list but when in Rome…

Our trip to Wyoming had been for better reasons than fly fishing the North Platte but with the recent fishing reports coming from this region, following some significant water releases from upstream, it was just too good an opportunity to pass up.

We were here to comment on the Preliminary Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was developing on the governments federal coal leasing program on public lands. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Fishing first, right?

It was a great trip but it may be the first time I was glad we were two hours late. It was a cold and rainy trip, via the long route, but we had to see some of this open pit strip mining that goes on in coal country anyway. Wow, it was amazing to me how the landscape can be altered so easily in the pursuit of coal. We saw an incredible number of pronghorn antelope too. I guess it’s an “over-the-counter” tag in Wyoming. It takes about 14 years to draw a tag in Oregon.

So yea, driving in two hours late, we finally met our patiently waiting guides Grant and Oliver. Another 30 minute drive to the put in at the base of the dam outside of Casper and we were underway. In our casual conversation on the way to the put in, we were hesitant to say what our real mission in Wyoming was. After all, coal is king here and like the rural counties in Oregon, where timber contributes significantly to the communities, not everyone is a fan for slowing fossil fuel consumption.

Finally geared up for the cold, stiff and steady 20 to 25 MPH wind, we left the bank with a couple of fly-rods and a couple of competent guides. Our trout adventure was about to begin.

As a guide, I knew the questions NOT to ask my guide. How many fish are we going to catch? How big are they running? Does that rock go all the way to the bottom? Yea, I’ve really been asked that. Hearing the echoes of my 7-year old daughter, “you’ll get what you get, and you won’t complain one bit!” Regardless, we were running high on anticipation.

It wasn’t long before we were into nice trout. They seemed downright “hangry” We had a double rig tied up, mine with a cream colored egg on the top and a rock worm on the bottom. I was blown away with how small the rock worm imitation was. Our goal was to just present, as natural as possible, two free-floating offerings to entice these motivated fish.

Guide buddy Kevin Newell and myself had a few doubles and ample opportunity for a few more. We ended with about 2 dozen fish between the two of us while our fishing buddy Michael O’ Leary hit another half dozen in the same drift. By day’s end (7:00 pm) we were cold, tired, and impressed with what this desert stream had to offer.

I wasn’t sure we’d be greeted with such enthusiasm at the PEIS coal hearing the next day.

We drug ourselves out of bed again early the next day, in order to get in line early enough to orally testify why the government should take a closer look at coal extraction. After all, these hearings in the Pacific Northwest often draw over 600 people to testify.

We didn’t have that kind of competition in Casper but pro-coal suits, lawmakers and workers were certainly dominating the landscape. It’s good to feel outnumbered sometimes. Puts a more human feel on the issue, giving us a better sense for how hard the outcome to this process will be for some communities.

We saw all the usual bumper stickers you might expect in Wyoming, my favorite being, “If they call it tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” Not quite the same welcome mat North Platt rainbow trout rolled out for us.

Overall, the 7-hour listening session went well. The BLM panel listened respectfully and intently on what the participants had to say. The whole idea behind the listening session was to hear input on what information should be incorporated into the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

For Pacific Northwesterners, that’s not too big of a reach. The three-pronged approach revolved around ocean acidification, pollution from coal dust along our river banks and climate change. Let me break down those concerns even a bit deeper:

Ocean Acidification (OA) – As I’ve written before, science is showing that the sensitive exoskeletons of pteropods are already being compromised off the Pacific coast. These tiny free-floating snails are the base of the food chain for our forage prey base and juvenile salmonids that are just now hitting the ocean. I’ve read that the greatest amount of mortality for juvenile salmonids takes place in the first 30 days of their ocean entry.

I’ve also written about the impacts of OA on the shells of oysters at the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. If OA is killing juvenile oysters in Oregon’s cleanest estuary, what’s it doing to the much more fragile shells of crab, clams and shrimp that feed us and the fish we most care about? ALL multi-million dollar commercial fisheries in Oregon alone! Salmon fishing, sportfishing alone, is a multi-billion dollar fishery in the Pacific Northwest.

Pollution from Coal Dust – Do I need to say much more than one-pound of coal dust PER rail car PER mile is expelled from every 100-rail car locomotive coming the 150 mile trek down the Columbia River. Even hillbilly math raises red flags here.

Did you ever wonder why your fresh caught spring Chinook had that charcoal grill taste when you actually baked it?

Climate Change – Yea, last but not least, I’ve also written about the warm water blob that scientists have never seen before, in what we thought were our untouchable Gulf of Alaska waters. Couple that with our recent intensive El Niño event we’re now just coming off of and we’re in for a few tough salmon years ahead.

Did you see all the whales in the lower Columbia River last summer? Did you notice how the timing of spring chinook the last 8 or so years has shifted about 2 years later than historical counts? Did you feel the heat of those 80 degree days this April and May? How about losing those hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon in the Columbia last year? I could go on and on….

The bottom line, it’s our job, as US citizens to tell our government, the best way to utilize our public resources. Whether on land or sea (Magnuson Stevens Act), let’s be a part of the conversation and solution and not let corporations decide how best to utilize OUR resources.

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