Humans, Streams, and the Desire to Manage

Fly fishing

11 Responses

  1. Annis Pratt says:

    You would love the Betsie River in Northwest Michigan where I have a cabin. It runs at about 5 knots in a winding 55 miles from Green Lake (Interlochen Music camp) to Lake Michigan at Frankfort. The Conservation Resource Alliance In Traverse City works on restoration and also on several other rivers in the region, like the Boardman and the Manistee. But the Betsie, narrow with frequent shade, is great for kayaking and Canoeing and has Trout, Salmon, and Steelhead. It was declared a Natural Wild River back in the 1970s and has been pretty well protected as a result.

  2. Luke Annear says:

    Thanks, Annis! Would be wonderful to have more of those designated Natural Wild rivers around. They are unfortunately few and far between. Hopefully we will come to value those truly wild rivers more in the future.

  3. Thanks for mentioning the 1974 fire in Grand Teton and the politics surrounding it. I happened to be a seasonal Park Ranger in Grand Teton at the time. The decision to let the fire to burn itself out was controversial. However, the Park Service did a good job educating its ranger division as to the nature of fire ecology. Consequently, we did a fair job educating and quieting the fears, even outrage, of the park visitors for whom Smokey the Bear was still a god-creature. That same summer, however, I was dispatched to quell several small fires ignited by lightening strikes along the Snake River flood plain. The hits were on dead cottonwoods, but they could spread to large-scale grass fires in the sage flats west of the road into the Park, which would not have been a bad idea because these flats had been overgrown with sage due to years of fire suppression (and still are). A good fire in the sage would restore much of the pre-European settlement grasslands, but Grand Teton management had more than enough controversy that summer. I was reminded of the beneficial effects of burning off sagebrush this spring when visiting in-laws in the foothills of the Eagle Cap Mountains in Central Oregon, which had a large fire in the forests and sagebrush flats in the past couple years. The native grasses and flowers were sprouting up abundantly among the burned skeletons of the sage, an efflorescence never before seen by the area’s old-time residents.

  4. Luke says:

    Jim, thanks for the comments. I can only imagine – and wish I could have seen – what those flowers looked like amidst the burnt remains of the sagebrush. Death and new life all in one – beautiful!

  5. Very interesting piece. Wholly agree that some restoration techniques are needlessly, sometimes crassly artificial and can be counterproductive too. Same in the UK as the US. However, it is worth linking this idea of ‘natural’ process to whatever degradation one is hoping will heal and that to flow regime and stream energy. A major problem on UK spring-fed streams (chalk-streams) is the extent to which they have been dredged (not sure if this applies to US spring-creeks): no natural process this side of glaciation will restore bed-level and sufficient gravel to these very low-energy streams. Cattle poached spring-creeks like your home stream in Wisconsin self-heal incredibly quickly once the cattle are taken off. But if the same creek is dredged the process is achingly slow, and starts with an accretion of alluvial run-off and a stagnated stream choked with marginal plants. If you can restore the bed-level with gravel, the stream will certainly do the rest, but you’d have to hang around for a millennium to see the stream recover bed-level ‘naturally’. Having said that, I’ve seen some reaches of higher-energy semi spring-fed rivers in south-west England self-heal (or get well on the way) over 25 years. It’s very much determined by stream energy. (PS: There’s some stuff on the work we’ve been doing here in Norfolk on my website under ‘river restoration’)

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