Friday, June 8, 2012

"Dare mighty things..."

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." 

 -- Theodore Roosevelt

The Great Works Dam ... coming out in Maine.
On Monday, work to remove the Great Works Dam on the Penobscot River in Maine will begin. When this dam and a couple others like it have been removed or retrofitted over the next few years, ocean-going fish like the Atlantic salmon, the striped bass and the American shad will again have access to about 1,000 miles of the Penobscot River and its tributaries.

The river's upper reaches have been blocked to these migrating fish for generations--the river was deemed more important for other uses, and the fish--and fishing--suffered. But the urge to see things set right (and I suspect the primal desire of many to feel the tug of a massive stiper or a kype-jawed salmon at the end of a tight line) proved too much for one-sided progress. After decades of debate, compromise and political maneuvering, dams are coming out, fish passage is being installed, and fish are coming back to this once-storied river.

Too bad it took so long--people have lived their entire lives never having seen this river in its fishy prime. That's a damn shame.

And, just in case you're of the mind that somebody lost in this amazing development, you'll be pleased to know that the river will actually produce more hydropower than it does now, when all the dams have been removed or improved. Amazing what we can do if we just open our eyes a bit, welcome new ideas and take advantage of the technology at our fingertips, isn't it? It's incredible what we can do when we invest in efforts to make our world better ... to make thing right again.

Wait... I guess there were some losers. Those who figured this would never happen ... that it might prove too expensive, or impractical ... they lost. Those who wouldn't dare step outside their comfort zone for fear of failure, or who put their faith in their deep-seeded political mantras rather than the data and the bold ideas of others... they lost, too. Those who's ideas are derived from bumper stickers and one-sentence slogans ... yeah, they lost, as well.

The four dams that keep salmon from Idaho.
But ... I don't live in Maine. I've never been to Maine. My glee over this development is purely voyeuristic. When I first heard that the dam was coming out, I was, in truth, quite jealous. Here in Idaho, we have great habitat for long-swimming salmon and steelhead from the Pacific, but with four-old-school dams along the lower Snake River blocking their path, we may never see fish in numbers that even approach those seen by my elders.

We have the same kind of data that those in Maine possess today. We have the technology. There are scores of folks like me who'd love to see the Salmon River awash in mighty chinooks rather than the hatchery born clones that struggle to come back every year in seemingly fewer and fewer numbers.

I guess we simply lack the boldness they've tapped into in Maine. We worry that the status quo might be too tough to combat, that stepping out onto a limb and working to set things right might be too costly politically, or go against our own deep-seeded beliefs, no matter what the numbers say, or what the technology can offer.

The product of boldness.
Yesterday, I got to see the fruits of such technology, and the benefits of boldness, albeit on a much smaller scale. I saw a rancher and U.S. Forest Service biologist grinning from ear to ear as a wild, native Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawned on a redd in a little stream that, two years ago, was a wasteland. I caught fat cutthroats from a stream that just a year ago had been put back into its natural channel after decades of enduring the misguided wrath of "progress."

These wonderful developments didn't happen overnight. They took will. They took the uncanny ability to bend a little, to listen and analyze and think. Folks had to look beyond the bumper stickers and their preconceived notions of what could be done, and who could do it. They had to put their politics aside and take a leap of faith.

I'll take our little victories in Idaho, at least for now. But I'll remain jealous of the people of Maine ... the courage, the boldness and the unwillingness to let small people with small ideas and misguided notions ruin their dream gives me hope.

I have a dream of salmon in Idaho ... millons of them. I think we can do it.

Put that on a bumper sticker.

-Chris Hunt


  1. It's amazing what can get done when people want it to...everything considered.

    First spawning Salmon in Idaho!

  2. From your keyboard to God's ears, my friend... Thanks!

  3. Wait... I guess there were some losers. The paragraph that follows sums it all. No one wants to work at anything any more. It's too easy to toss out a soundbite and stick stubbornly to it. Let's cut the bullshit and work together for solutions that work for everyone. I think we can do it.

  4. Damn, Mike... you're so right. Thanks for that.

  5. It would make me very happy to see all our major rivers undammed before I pass to the Great Hunting (and Fishing)Grounds. Nicely done.

  6. There's an ancient photo I found online of the Housatonic River before the Stevenson Dam went up. Salmon and Stripers used to run far up the river. Now it's a series of warmwater impoundments. I can't imagine a future without those dams though I suppose that's the first step. Dreaming of free rivers.

  7. I fished the Housatonic seven or eight years ago in June... I caught a couple of nice browns, but the hot fish were the smallies... I think that speaks volumes about the dams on that particular river... Dams can be useful and helpful... but they can also outwear their welcome, at least in my book.

  8. Imitation is the highest form of flattery......

    Take a page from Maine's playbook and tear down those dams.

    Here's the link to the Penobscot River Restoration website:

    Good luck.