Fairies and Trolls

Fairies and Trolls in the River 112111

A Fringe Fairy Tale

I was talking with a friend the other day and she said “we’re very excited about the salmon returning to the Yuba River.”  I thought she was having me on, but no, she was fully serious, or as serious as one can be about something they’ve given very little thought to. 


I asked if she wasn’t worried that threatened and endangered species in the basin might make it hard for her to fix her septic system, since it’s right on the river.  She said it was in good shape, and anyway, someone else might have a hard time but she was grandfathered in; she’s got hers.


What about other people?  Not her concern, it turns out.  She liked the idea of salmon surging up the Yuba.  She thought tourists would come to see them, as though they might parade around on shore, perhaps, to have their pictures taken, or as though tourists had access to the far and upper reaches of the river where, in theory, the salmon would yearn to go.  Perhaps she thinks the tiny fry and smolt will be so plentiful they’ll fill the river with glimmering and people would come up from LA to see it, instead of stopping at Englebright where you can already see salmon and steelhead. 


What about suction dredge miners, and others with claims along the river?  They don’t buy anything locally, she said, and they don’t bring money into the county.  All they do is destroy the river bottom so fish couldn’t spawn.  They poo in the bush and park along the highway.  They’re ugly, is what she’s getting at.  Trolls.


Who isn’t enchanted by the vision of silvery shoals of salmon cheek by jowl racing up the Yuba?  We’d all love to see that, but at what cost? 


I wasn’t able to find when the last salmon inhabited the Yuba.  Certainly it was around 1941 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Englebright Dam.  New Bullard’s Bar is one of the highest dams in the state, far too high for the fish to get around.  The ACE and the National Marine Fisheries Service are under the gun to ease the salmon’s route around Englebright dam, and as we know, the Yuba County Water Agency pretty much has to come up with a salmon saving plan to get the license renewed for New Bullard’s Bar dam.  New Bullard’s Bar was finished in 1969 and sealed the salmon’s fate.  Back in 2000 the YCWA was complaining that the state Water Resources Control Board was trying to take too much water for fish, and complained that they needed to be compensated for the water.   Now, they’re delighted at the idea of dumping the problem on us.

The Yuba watershed and dams, from wiki.

American Rivers, a national organization which is a partner in the reintroduction scheme, rates the Yuba as one of America’s 11 most endangered rivers, and calls Englebright and New Bullard’s Bar “two outdated federal dams” even though the dams support tens of thousands of people.  AR is one of the reasons YCWA is now hot to give the salmon more water.


We get why these people are giddy about introducing the salmon to our rivers, they have no choice if they want to keep doing business.  But pretty much no one believes we are going to see silvery shoals.  That’s a dream, a fairy tale. 


The person I was talking to denied the Yuba was good for fishing now, saying the only fish in the river are planted trout, which are sucked out of the river before they get familiar with it by fishermen.  How are salmon who are trucked around a dam and dumped into the river more natural?  She didn’t know, but she was looking forward to seeing them. 


This person, a Sierra County resident, would rather have fish than people.  Silvery water fairies, instead of trolls.  Even though no one seriously believes the reintroduction will produce anything more than an abbreviated run.  She would turn her back on people who need to make a living, from fishermen and those who risk the deep cold water for gold, in favor of a fantasy about salmon. 


In Siskiyou County, up and down the Shasta and Scott rivers, ag people are at risk.  The Coho is not native to the Klamath, it was planted there, but still a handful of people want to see them instead of people using the river.  On the Eel river, court cases have been fought to see if people could remove a few trees without “taking” salmon and other endangered fish; the lawsuits with the gargantuan federal agencies can easily cost more than the property is worth, and landowners are de facto denied the use of their land.  The Kokanee are not native to Tahoe, but efforts are being made to re-introduce them as though they were.  Facts are powerless against people seeking employment and witless dreamers.


The Yuba County Water Agency needs its dam; New Bullard’s Bar is home to houseboats and has been cited nationally as a prime recreation lake.  The best way to help the salmon is to take down Englebright and New Bullard’s Bar, but that simply isn’t going to happen.  Without that, pretty much all that can happen is what is happening: a play, pretend.  We’ll pretend the riffles of the Yuba will be restored of salmon, so New Bullard’s Bar can remain rich with tourist dollars from fishing and boating, and from energy dollars from some of California’s biggest turbines, and water for ag and flood protection.  At least we understand why they are participating.


How do we resolve the quisling in our midst?  It’s almost a given that we’re going to have salmon forced down our throat, but it’s our choice to swallow or spit.  It’s horrifying to see someone so oblivious to facts, so uncaring of her fellow river dwellers, so cavalier about the suffering of others in her ecology.  Somehow it’s possible to take one’s own kind for granted in favor of imagined fish.  The trolls simply can’t compete in fantasy with the fairies in the river.

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