I remember ...
Once upon a time, I took extensive vacations in Maine. It's something that I would recommend to any and all that ask. Maine is where I caught my first pickerel and smallmouth bass. Maine is where I climbed mile-high Mt. Katahdin--twice. Maine is where I took a canoe up a stream to a beaver dam, and caught the most brilliantly-colored trout of my life behind it.
... but what price progress?
Well, Maine, as with most states, attempted to improve the lives of its citizens through the construction of dams. It was an initiative of honorable intent. However, as with most endeavors that are undertaken without full information or understanding of the consequences, there were consequences. Like most actions that we take, the impacts may be masked for a long time--maybe decades--before we begin to see what we've really done.
Such was the impact of dam construction. For this example, we will consider dams that were built on the Penobscot River--one of Maine's greatest treasures. Three dams were constructed on the river, beginning in the 1830s, that seriously altered the ecosystem, causing fish populations to all but collapse.
Maine removed two of the dams in 2012 and 2013. To say that the results were startling would be an understatement.
As noted in this testimonial from the New York Times, life found a way to return. More than two million alewives, 8000 shad, 500 Atlantic salmon, and many other anadromous species have now found their way home. This is how we keep species alive. This is how we keep our species alive. Make no mistake--if we drive alewives and shad to extinction--admittedly fish you've probably never heard of--then we're driving ourselves to extinction as well.
Removal of these dams is an important first step--and it illustrates a greater truth: Humankind will be more successful and long-lived if we do not mess with the environment that sustains us. We've messed with a lot. So in recognition of what we've done, let's un-mess with everything that we can.
To learn more about how to continue progress in restoring the rivers that have sustained us for so long, check out Recovering a Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities by Steven Hawley.
The review from Amazon:
In the Pacific Northwest, the Snake River and its wilderness tributaries were—as recently as a half century ago—some of the world’s greatest salmon rivers. Now, due to four federal dams, the salmon population has dropped close to extinction. Steven Hawley, journalist and self-proclaimed “river rat,” argues that the best hope for the Snake River lies in dam removal, a solution that pits the power companies and federal authorities against a collection of Indian tribes, farmers, fishermen, and river recreationists. The river’s health, as he demonstrates, is closely connected to local economies, freshwater rights, and energy independence. Challenging the notion of hydropower as a cheap, green source of energy, Hawley depicts the efforts being made on behalf of salmon by a growing army of river warriors. Their message, persistent but disarmingly simple, is that all salmon need is water in their rivers and a clear way home.
Although the book doesn't address the Penobscot, the lessons to be learned are the same: Don't mess with things you don't understand; don't mess with Mother Nature, because she knows more than we. Once you've identified a bad concept, rectify it as soon as possible.
Words to live (and survive) by.
I choose survival. And I look forward to catching my first Atlantic salmon (on my bucket list). Maybe it will be on the Penobscot.