This Month’s Book: A River Lost

“Your Power is Turning Our Darkness to Dawn…”

A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia
We hope you’ve had time to check out “A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia” by Blaine Harden. If you grew up in Washington State, you might remember singing “Roll On, Columbia Roll On” when you were in grade school. This Woodie Guthrie song celebrated the harnessed power of the river. According to a University of Oregon documentary, Guthrie wrote the song while he briefly worked for the Bonneville Power Administration.

Today our attitudes about dams have changed; while we still use and enjoy the power that comes from hydroelectric dams we regret other changes that dams have wrought, especially decreased salmon runs.

The Seattle Times just published an Op-ed about bringing salmon back to the Cle Elum in the Yakima River Basin by Virgil Lewis, titled “Celebrating and supporting the return of the Cle Elum Sockeye.” Check out National Wildlife Federation’s work with American Rivers and other conservation groups on the Yakima River Basin here.

So while we still need electricity and stored water, agencies and non-profits are working to bring back salmon runs and healthier river ecosystems, whether it’s by tearing down dams or by improving fish passages around dams.

Meanwhile, in Alaska, plans are underway to build new hydroelectric projects such as one planned on the Susitna River. You can learn more about this project here.

Our questions about “A River Lost: The life and Death of the Columbia” from last month are repeated here, and in addition to the questions posed last month, we’d like to request some thoughts from you, the reader, about hydroelectric power and irrigation projects in the Northwest and around the world.

Discussion Questions (please join the discussion in the comments below):

  • The might of the Columbia now produces clean, cheap energy which helps reduce the impact of many Northwest cities. This clean energy comes at a price, however, as the dams have compromised our salmon runs. Is this reward worth the impact on our salmon?
  • Like many great rivers the Columbia’s water has been used to bring agriculture to the desert. Without the dams, agriculture would not be able to thrive in these areas, but is comes at a great cost, reducing the amount of water in the river and in the case of some it means that these great rivers have run dry. Is this an appropriate use of our rivers or should we ensure that they are able to thrive along side of us?

January/February’s Book: Shell Games

“Forget CSI—this is the real deal, tracking down the greediest kinds of criminals as they plunder the planet’s future.” – Bill McKibben

Shell Games: Rogues, Smuggler and the Hunt for Natures Bounty
Following on the heels of the high profile September, 2012 bust of a Washington State poacher network, it seemed like the timing was right to feature this well-reviewed book by Seattle Times reporter Craig Welch. Thanks to our friends at the Farrington Foundationfor recommending “Shell Games” on their website.

While the big bust in September was focused on poachers of game like deer and elk, and even the restaurants buying and serving the game, poachers go after all types and sizes of fish and wildlife, as long as there’s a market. Even clams.

Apparently, geoduck poaching is a problem here in Puget Sound, and “Shell Games” features the story of undercover operatives who try to catch these shellfish poachers. (Geoducks are a type of clam.)

As long as there is a market for illegal fish and wildlife products, this battle is likely to continue, but government agencies and non-profits are doing what they can to educate the public about this growing problem, here and around the world.

Questions for your consideration as you explore this topic:

  • Poachers can be motivated by different goals, some want to make money; others take fish or wildlife for food on their own tables. Some simply want trophies. Are any of these reasons acceptable to you? Why or why not? Does it depend on the relative health of the species in question?
  • Enforcement is limited due to budgets and the sheer size of the areas to patrol. Would you like to see more revenue going to support enforcement?
  • Have you ever eaten game meat in a restaurant? If so, did you ask where it came from and whether it was legally obtained?
  • Do you know how to report poaching, and how to stay safe while doing so?