By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
It is easy to forget when you look at all the beauty in nature that there are some pretty nasty environmental issues in the wild. I am not talking about the manmade messes we bring in and leave. You know that you shouldn’t do that, and I am probably not going to alter your behavior by browbeating you in commentary. There’s an app for that.
I would like to discuss how we lull ourselves into a false sense of security about the “natural” environment. We see what looks like a crystal-clear stream and jump in up to our necks in it, gulping down a swallow or two of that “sweet” water. Because of our love for nature, we forget that things urinate, defecate, and decompose in the wild. And these creatures typically do all of that wherever they happen to be at the time it is necessitated, even if they happen to be standing in the river.
I am trying to maintain a walking regimen for my health. I get out as many days as possible and get in an intentional 30 minutes to an hour of “steps”. Technology companies have made a fortune creating neat watches that count everything from your steps to your heart condition. I have one of those. So, walking is an exercise that I can do with little to no excuse, and I try to keep a routine.
It was on one of these routine walks by the river that I noticed something in the water. It was one of the “oh how sweet” moments you have when you see something pretty and inspiring in the wild. I looked off into the water and saw the butterflies congregating near a rock on what I thought was a tree limb that had broke off and floated down the river. I thought what a neat example of nature, the butterflies coming down together to drink at the same watering hole on that log. Only, as I continued to enjoy this tranquil scene, I noted that, under the water line, the log had feet and a large, flat tail. The limb or log was actually the carcass of a beaver, from the looks of it a very old, large beaver. The butterflies weren’t drinking water. They were feeding on the liquified portions of that carcass.
About a hundred feet away from this scene, there are children, elders, and families enjoying a cool dip in the river. Splashing, or as one of my old bosses used to call it, “spladder-dashing” in what seemed to be the pristine water. I don’t have to go too far with the imagery of what they might have been ingesting with every accidental gulp of river water.
If you have ever watched a survivalist show on TV or happen to be an outdoor enthusiast yourself (I think they might call them “trekkers” these days), you know that it is a bad idea to drink untreated water from a river or lake. They are pretty keen on telling you that it might be okay to find a rushing head water stream that has the opportunity to run through a natural filter of the leavings of the forest canopy, but still or slower moving water is a big no-no. Even water in your backyard pool must be routinely treated to prevent bad bacterial growth. Imagine what the bacterial growth would be like in a slow-moving river downstream of a rotting carcass.
I am not suggesting that we be afraid to frolic in the river. People have been doing it for years, hundreds of years, with little ill effect. I am just saying we should frolic with forethought. Be aware and reminded. Because nature is unpredictable, water quality is going to vary day-to-day. When I realized what I encountered, I made an effort to contact authorities so that the issue would at least be called to the attention of someone who could mitigate any contamination that might affect water quality to an extent that might be harmful to health. On that subject, it might be a good idea for the powers that be to post signage along the river to provide contact information for those finding potential health hazards. I am just saying to the public that a little awareness goes a long way. The knowledge of that old, expired beaver laying in the water upstream of them might have modified the behavior of those playing in the water just a hundred feet away. Or not. As I said before, these things likely happen multiple times a day up stream in any river or lake you care to mention, and, as in the case of the beaver carcass, most folks don’t know it’s there. It is natural.
The ducks and geese that visit our river, riverbanks, and islands are notorious for their droppings. It is very difficult to distinguish between the skat of a Canadian goose and a small dog. They definitely leave their mark. The efforts of the tribal government to reduce their impact can be seen as you walk along some of the more traveled parts of the greenways. You don’t see as many ducks and geese as in recent years, but you do see their leavings just about everywhere along the walkways. And since our greenways tend to run next to and parallel to the river, all it takes is a little bit of rain to move big bird droppings into the waterway. And if these birds are floating in the water, they don’t waddle up on the bank to do their business. The fowl just foul the water where they are; again, in the same waterway that we enjoy soaking our heads in.
The good news is that the bio dump of forest animals hasn’t been a health concern for most of us. Thousands of locals and tourists submerge themselves in the river with no ill effects. Seeing things like a beaver carcass in the river has more of a gross-out factor than a sick-out (as long as you don’t think about it too long). I have always heard, since I was a little boy, that trout are some of the most finicky fish when it comes to water quality, only thriving in the cleanest water. And since we are known for having some of the best trout fishing on the planet, I would say that our river gets a pretty high grade when it comes to water cleanliness.
But, as in everything, you are going to run into exceptions. An overall clean water system only needs an isolated incident to make it not overall clean.
Back to the manmade contaminants, we all need to do our part to reduce the load on nature to try to clean up. As we have discussed God’s wildlife does a pretty good job of contributing contaminants that have to be filtered and processed. Those natural droppings and decay have a place in the structure and under normal conditions, it is normal and beneficial to the cycle of life. But when we pack manmade items into that ecosystem, it causes nature to have to attempt to mitigate unnatural elements that invade that natural cycle of life. We have created materials that were never meant to be a part: Styrofoam and other plastics in the form of straws, drink and food containers, syringes, a multitude of pharmaceuticals and chemicals. All serve a purpose for mankind but have no place in nature. When we are negligent in our use of those manmade items, we are a detriment to that natural environment that leaves us in wonder and gives us peace.
Local and visitor alike are guilty, so blaming one or the other is a waste of time and energy that could be better spent on education and meaningful action. Especially those of us who have been placed here as caretakers of the land, water, and air, and profess a special connection to them, we should be that much more diligent in caretaking. Let’s do what we can to keep the Boundary natural, instead of making it nasty. If you are reading this, as I said in the beginning, I am probably preaching to the choir, but hopefully you will be an influence for someone who needs to do better and be more aware when it comes to the environment.