Friday, October 28, 2016

After All The Earth Is Scorched

I am 42 years old.  My marriage has survived 16 years so far, we have a son who seems to do well at school and sports, and both my career and my wife's career are going great.   We get to travel some, though not as much as we'd like, or as far as we'd like.  We are paying down debt, though not as fast as we'd like.  I own my truck (hope it doesn't blow up).    I have reverence for nature, and work hard to have faith in a God that I can understand.  I work really hard to love people, and I am fueled off of their positivity and enthusiasm.  My mental health is probably the best it's been in my life.  Life - in general - is pretty great, even if it's not easy.

But part of that puffy daydream is a lie.  My ability to work 40 hours by the end of most wednesdays; my ability to rejoice in my son's successes and work with him through his challenges with happy patience, each fish I catch and each duck I shoot.....a tiny part of it's fueled by something else.  What? Well, bad people generally, and assholes who have used their energy to try to break or ruin me, specifically.  Their ill will, their bad faith, their defamation....it's all fuel, if I'm being honest.  And most of the time, I'm not being honest, because this is the extra boiler room inside me that I don't want anyone to see.  What if anyone could see the minor slights and stupid insults that I have carried with me.

What's worse is that I'm learning that energy placed towards that anger is, as they say, seed sown in a desert.  Biblical stories about mustard seeds come to mind.  Many of these people who do bad stuff end up having bad stuff happen to them.   Which in many cases seems fitting, but it doesn't make me work any harder.  Learning about their downfall doesn't make me a better person either.

There was a guy who supervised me (years ago) and subverted me until I quit.  He was pretty proud of his ability to do so, and bragged that his wife (who married him for reasons I don't understand) was the hottest in the land, or something like that.   He's been promoted once in the last 15 years, is still in the same cubicle, and his wife left him.   He has a poor professional reputation and people generally avoid him. That won't help me finish these grant application reviews tonight at my desk.

There was an uber-corporate guy who was the COO at a firm where I worked.  He loved showing off the appearance that he had the perfect career and most obedient, TV-polished family, even though I figured he was probably a tyrant at home.  He rode me hard because he thought  that I was a hippy stoner (not a good match for his Reagan politics).  I really looked up to him, but it seemed like every outdoor adventure I told him about, he had already conquered, and let me know it (he was 10 years older, with double my salary, which can lead to good hunting and fishing).   But his kids never finished college, one of them is a publicly declared drug user, and his wife divorced him.  I think work keeps him from hunting but 2-3 days per year.  I can't imagine the confusion and dissafection he feels, approaching age 60.   I can't cash in any of this for additional vacation days.

One of my nonprofit bosses was a tyrant to everything and everyone beneath her, and made a daily habit - from 800 miles away! - of reminding us we were beneath her.  Ultimately her pre-ordained ascent into senior leadership fell victim to an audit, the details of which I heard about but never saw. She lost her entire staff and her operating budget.  Her mentor and political cover was forced to retire.  Her new supervisors refused to fire her and specifically filled her prior position with another woman very publicly, perhaps to show her she was not singular; perhaps to guard against discrimination litigation; likely both.   She quit in disgrace, and then had to struggle through an awful divorce that by all accounts, was not her fault.   She is still successful, but works somewhere that makes her a Ph.D. scientist in a sea of Ph.D. scientists.  She is no longer singular. She no longer has the freedom to rule as a tyrant. That fact likely makes her skin crawl.   And all of that will not increase my annual bonus this year. 

There's the guy who used to make fun of me in middle school.  He was a gifted kid, like me, but also a sports star and the girls all loved him.  I was awkward and quiet in those years.  He used to tease me relentlessly for not being able to verbally spar with him.  Man, he was quick with the insults.  He got off the bus at one of the first bus stops.  I remember exhaling as he'd climb off, every day.  Rid of him until tomorrow. He disappeared into a jock vortex in high school, attended a crappy college far below his intellect, never played college or professional sports, and was divorced with kids by 35 - in a state that takes alimony (too) seriously. Looking at age 43, he's still single; still alone, which must be hard for him and his need to be liked.  And that's not going to help me finish my first novel. 

As I read in a book about ninjutsu, "Do not attack your enemies; merely show them the path to the destruction they seek."   That being said, after all the earth is scorched, there is nothing but scorched earth.  You can't till that ground for shit.  I knew these people and watched them fall, creating a mental storybook of devastation I created, perhaps for my own self-validation, or at least to validate my memory that these were bad people I shouldn't emulate.   It's a dark, negative creation.   I wasn't responsible for their failure, and I certainly couldn't have helped them while I was being victimized by them.  I simply moved out of their way.  But there's something that's equal parts unsettling, guiltily rewarding, and just tragic about all of it.

Some days I look over the scorched earth of those who crossed me, and I smile.  They got theirs.  But the smile does not last, because there is too much work.  And because my satisfaction is awful and inhumane, and I know it. Who is watching me, waiting to document and analyze my fall?  I should probably stop thinking that there won't be an audience.





Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Good Morning Largemouth

As I've griped about here for 8? 9? years, I don't get to fish enough.  Although it's true enough that like a living parable, everyone I know who can "fish enough" is not satisfied either.    I had a tour with elected officials canceled one morning and so I thought I'd challenge the October Gods for a Maryland largemouth before work.   I caught several 8-12" bass in extremely heavy cover in a flowing pool, and had big fish slip the hook at least three times, before getting a hold of this guy.  My second biggest largemouth of the year.  Interestingly enough, it was caught on a very small Diezel Chatterbait set up for redfish.   Silver hardware and pearl trailer.  Because why not.

It wasn't a monster, somewhere in the 3lb and 15" range.  But it's a big fish for me, and I was happy to come down in the swamp and "do what I came to do."  On the other hand, my fish selfie game needs some serious improvement.  See below.

Hope you all are enjoying the recent onset of fall weather and getting outdoors.








Friday, October 7, 2016

Richmond's Reedy Creek Restoration Project - Mistakes Were Made

I love Richmond, Virginia.  It's less than two hours from my hometown and though I've never lived there (not for lack of effort - the job market isn't so hot, and never has been), I love the city.  I love its historic past, both beautiful and ugly, its extremely gritty recent past, and the wonderful 21st Century city that it's becoming.   But change (or even growing up) isn't always easy in Virginia.   As the saying goes - it takes 8 Virginians to change a lightbulb.  One to do it, and the other 7 to stand around and talk about how much better the old one was.

Richmond, like many cities and counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, finds itself  - after 400 years of unbridled development and habitat destruction - in the vice grips of federal water quality mandates.    One, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, demands compliance by 2025.  The other, the Richmond MS4, demands compliance by 2018.    Arguably, the City of Richmond is not likely to comply with either the TMDL or the MS4, which means a costly Federal Consent Decree is likely. More on that in a bit.

First, how does a municipality "comply" with these mandates?  Largely, compliance is made through the completion of "projects" that reduce the input of key pollutants (typically nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, bacteria, and trash) into interstate (federal) waterways like the Chesapeake Bay.  "Projects" include sanitary sewer upgrades, tree plantings, stream stabilization, wetland creation, and other efforts that generally reduce sewage and stormwater from reaching large water bodies.  Each "project" is assigned a pollution reduction value (i.e. measures like rain barrels and tree plantings get a relatively low score, while sewer plant upgrades receive a high score).  

A measure of some controversy has been the relatively generous crediting of stream restoration projects that 1) stabilize eroding stream banks, 2) enhance hyporheic exchange, and 3) reconnect the stream to the floodplain on a more regular basis.    The City of Richmond has staked much of its 2018 MS4 compliance hopes on the construction of three stream restoration projects, one of which is known as the Reedy Creek Restoration Project.

Reedy Creek is a very typical fall line stream in a developed area.  It is generally highly eroded, and any historic floodplain wetlands have been drained due to stream downcutting in some areas.  In some areas, however, the stream has a relatively stable cross-section.   There are many trees present, however, many of them (like maples and poplars) are not considered to have high value for habitat or nutrient uptake.  Much of the stream valley is subject to run-outs and headcuts associated with the watershed's urban hydrographs.    In short, the system is a mess.    Here are what I believe to be indisputable facts:

1) Some sections of Reedy Creek are extremely unstable.
2)  These sections will not "heal themselves" in a human timeframe, even if all runoff was removed from the watershed (impossible). 
3) Trees will have to be removed to do the work. 
4) The planted trees will not achieve that same size for decades.
5)  Trees do, eventually, grow bigger, if they are maintained and kept free of vines.
6) The TMDL and MS4 permits are driving restoration projects. 

However, much more is *in* dispute.   The large, tree-holding area of Reedy Creek showing the most erosion happens to be City property.  If you're the City of Richmond, and you have to do these "projects" by 2018, the one way you can possibly achieve that is by using City property.   That's not in dispute, either.  There is no way between 2014 and 2018 that the City could negotiate enough private property projects to comply with the permit requirements.  However, it appears that the City didn't feel compelled to share their early plans with the community surrounding the park.  In fact, the City DPU (the MS4 permittee and the stream project sponsor) still doesn't seem ecstatic about this whole "public input" thing.  To their point, the MS4 and TMDL permits may have specified this project, and certainly did have public input periods, which I'm fairly confident this community ignored.

Enter a bunch of local do-gooders, or, at least they think they are local do-gooders, the Reedy Creek Coalition.   I chuckled at an online comment that read something like, "How come the only reference to the restoration of Reedy Creek on your website is "Stop the Stream Restoration?!" .....and it's a valid question.  The Reedy Creek Coalition isn't fond of the way this project materialized (which seems like a fair complaint) or the way that the City plans to re-align a stream on City property (which seems like less of a fair complaint).    I was excited to read one article that said that the City had not considered the validity of Reedy Creek Coalition's alternative plan for watershed restoration.  Upon hunting for that "plan," I read another article stating that it was simply a list of other City-owned properties in the watershed, that maybe could possibly sort of somehow be used for stormwater reduction.   As someone who has built 200+ ponds, wetlands, streams, rain gardens, etc., I know that a list is not a plan.  A plan is something that provides adequate information to judge cost, impact, and benefit.    After considering this for a while, I can't get over my feeling that this "plan" wasn't meant to be a real plan at all.

This begs a bigger question:  What is Reedy Creek Coalition's vision for saving Reedy Creek and restoring it back to some prior version of itself?  What calculations have been done on the alternatives they suggest? Where does their strategic plan say the highest quality projects would be - and how was that calculated?  To be fair, those same questions should be asked of the project proponents as well!  
But I haven't seen any calculations -   it certainly seems like the City wants to build this project because they have decided to build it; the Reedy Creek Coalition appears to object to the project because they have decided they don't like it.

If the Reedy Creek Coalition succeeds in killing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) In 2018, the City of Richmond will specifically blame this RCC for the City's failure to attain pollution reduction goals (and again in 2019, for the TMDL 2-year milestones).  That will become the reputation of Reedy Creek Coalition.  I cannot imagine trying to fundraise on that public reputation.  Especially when fines are levied, creating an excuse for the City to raise taxes/fees (and explicitly blame RCC).

2) Reedy Creek will not be restored, uplands or downstream, in this generation.   The state and city agencies will not allow substantial funding to flow to this watershed due to demonstrated risk of project failure.

If City DPU succeeds in installing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) Reedy Creek Coalition will publicly document every eroded pebble, every dead planted tree, every slightly misplaced boulder with exposed soil behind it.   We have a guy who does this at restoration projects in Maryland.   He is miserable; hearing him speak with the media is even more miserable.  "Look here! It's dirt! This project is a failure!" The City can look forward to that, if they continue on their present course.

2) Unless substantial stream monitoring protocols are already in place, the City will have a hard time categorizing the site as a "success," because the majority of people talking about the site will remind everyone else of the dead trees.

A Real Framework for the Restoration of Reedy Creek

What does this all mean?  Well, in the words of comedian Keegan-Michael Key, "Ya done messed up!"  The two primary parties in this dispute have a lot to lose by sticking to their guns, and they seem reticent to admit that.   Might I suggest a "both, and" approach to the restoration of Reedy Creek instead of an "either, or?"  

For instance, the parties could execute an MOU that provides:

1) RCC to hire a stream restoration engineer (at their own cost) to recommend specific tree-saving techniques to City DPU.   Perhaps 10 major recommendations, of which 5 (City's choice) *must* be accomodated.   RCC must provide these recommendations to City DPU in 90 days or less.

2)  City will place "escrow" type funding with a local conservation organization with the capacity to do actual watershed restoration activities (unfortunately, that means probably not the organization whose restoration goal is "Stop The Restoration!") for the purposes of 10 growing seasons of mechanical and/or chemical control of invasive species.

3)  City will establish an "escrow" or "tree trust" funding for 30 years that will ensure that within 30 years, forest canopy coverage is high or higher than pre-restoration.

4) RCC will desist from anecdotal stream condition descriptions, and instead hire an independent ecological consultant (at RCC's own cost) to perform a functional assessment (recommended: Harmon-Starr Functional Pyramid) on various reaches of the stream to document whether City DPU's proposed restoration method will provide meaningful "uplift" to the stream's condition (if not, consider abandoning work or reducing impact in those areas).

5)  RCC will serve as the primary partner on the restoration of the private property "concrete gully" upstream.  City DPU agrees in concept to provide speedy permit review and grant application support letters (RCC should be able to raise the (guessing) $1.5 million to accomplish the concrete channel restoration).  RCC may be able to negotiate that the City provides up to 50% matching funds for that effort, as well (or, even more importantly, $200,000 in start-up funds to begin the survey, engineering, and permit work).    Also, local partners like RCC typically have better success navigating private property concerns (and right of way costs) than City agencies.   If RCC is serious about treating the stormwater to Reedy Creek, and not simply using the "concrete gully" as a red herring to stop the project downhill, RCC will readily pursue this huge opportunity for their organization.

My overall worry is that the City of Richmond doesn't care all that much about Reedy Creek, if they never produced a set of alternative approaches and didn't conduct meaningful listening sessions for the community.   My overall worry is that Reedy Creek Coalition might not care that much either, if they have no concrete plan for advancing meaningful-scale watershed restoration work with or without the City's engineers.  

There is a huge opportunity, and huge obligation, for community and city leaders to work together in this period of generous funding for watershed restoration and simply get it done in a way that everyone will be happy to describe to their grandkids one day.   But as of last week, the two parties couldn't be much farther apart.   And if Reedy Creek continues to erode and unravel (and take out big, beautiful trees) for another 30 years, I don't think anyone will be proud to tell their grandkids about their role in that lost opportunity.   "I tried to steamroll a community, and failed!"  "Oh yeah, well I stopped the City from investing in our community - and they never came back!" 




Monday, October 3, 2016

The Perils of a "Fish Every Day" Contest

A high-end outdoor outfitter recently had a widely publicized contest: "Fly Fish 20 Days in September."  Unless you were on a fishing trip for at least 22 days, that's a challenge.   My immediate thought when I read the exciting write-ups for this contest was self-disappointment, with a giant work calendar as a thunderhead over me.    I can't fish that much right now, I thought.

I built this fish habitat, but haven't had time to fish it.
I think that means I lack dedication and/or passion. 
We're planting trees and building streams in September.  My son goes back to sports in September.  His birthday is even in September, and none of the grandparents live close, so if they do visit, I'm pretty occupied with that for several days.   My wife has lots of night meetings in September.  Anymore, September is still a summer heatwave on the Mid-Atlantic coast, and coastal waters are horribly low in oxygen, leading to lots of lethargic, dead and dying fish.   Air temperatures in the mid-90s and water in the mid-80s.  September is just bad.  And I think it's that way for a lot of people.    To restrict outdoor adventures to specifically "fly fishing" - contest or no contest -  is adding insult to injury for your average angler.  Largely, they probably ignore it, and the retailer, which could be intentional on the retailer's part.

But again, what I felt most was disappointment, and the next immediate feeling was that maybe I'm not hardcore enough for that outfitter and their goods.    The Outdoor Foundation reports that the mean number of fishing outings (including *all* types of fishing) is 17.9 times per year.   As an advocate for the sport, these are the people you want.  They buy licenses, they purchase gear, and most of them are copacetic with fishing about three times every two months.    They're good for the industry and the fishery, much like gym members who rarely go to the gym are pretty good for the gym.

Property of Fox Broadcasting Company
However, making them feel like Homer Simpsons because they can't fly fish 20 times in one month seems like a bad idea, especially for an industry and a natural resource facing certain peril in the coming generations (to say nothing of the coming months).   Imagine a reality, like right now, when all the industry and lobbyist groups are wanting us anglers to be politically motivated.  Or pick up a phone and call our representative.  Or defend the value of National Parks.   Again, that reality is right now.   A great time to alienate anglers -  I haven't heard anyone who fishes less than three times per week state anything positive about the "20 days in September" challenge.  And I do know a lot of people who fish 2-3 times per week.

"Boy, he sounds sour."  Well, I am sour.   I'm confused at why, knowing what we know about the folly of creating outdoor celebrities - and how the animal rights crowd loves to use the antics of those celebrities to try and snuff out our sport -  that we are having contests to create more fishing rock stars.   I'm confused at why at a time when we need anglers to defend conservation, defend federal lands, and defend a potentially dying industry, we are designing highly publicized contests to separate the 1% from the 99%.    Because in larger society, that certainly hasn't been noted.   Maybe I need to get a bunch of drunken worm dunkers and we'll be "Occupy the Poudre."

I'm sour because fishing does not rank in the TOP TEN "aspirational outdoor activities" of 18-24 year olds.    

Or the TOP TEN "aspirational" activities of 25-34 year olds (for 20 years, a core market for outdoor retailers).  

And it squeaks in at #8 for 35-44 year olds, previously, but no longer, a core market. 

And it's no surprise that while at least TEN other outdoor activities are 2016 growth markets, according to the Outdoor Foundation, fishing is certainly not one of them.   And fly fishing? I mean, it's about 10% of anglers....so.... 2% or so of Americans.  "But it has grown 0.5% in the last 3 years!"  Yeah sure.  Kayak fishing has grown 17% in the last 3 years.  We're losing *total* anglers hand over fist.   Clearly, the fly fishing industry caters to a small portion of Americans.  But which Americans?

After making solid inroads into wider acceptance (broadly and socioeconomically) over the last decade, it would appear that high end fly fishing is again positioning itself as the pinnacle of the sport, the pinnacle of angler excellence, the pinnacle of dedication and passion - and you know, dedication costs big bucks.  "Fly fish 20 days in September" - because we sure are.   If you can't fly fish 20 days in September, you don't have the passion.  Bottom line.   So says our marketing team!

Perhaps, once again in 2016,  the soccer dads, football moms, inner city kids, and lonely apartment millenials aren't the sort of people that the fly fishing industry really wants.  After several years of claiming they wished for "growth of the sport" during the Great Recession, I guess they've got enough Titanium Card customers to rid themselves of that facade.   It is noted.

While I've hit personal records for both largemouth bass and chain pickerel in the last 12 months, and while I've fished in six states this year, including a four-day offshore trip in the Gulf of Mexico,  I couldn't fish 20 days in September.   Despite dedicating my life to wetland and stream restoration, I couldn't fish 20 days in September.  Clearly, I lack the passion that some guys have.  Maybe one day I'll have the kind of dedication to the resource and the sport that lets me enter a 20 Days In September contest.

Probably not.  They're looking for a different kind of people.





Moments in Outdoor Parenthood: Photos of Parents

My standard outdoors view these days -
the soles of my kid's feet. 
A lot of us know a lot of good parents.  Folks who show their kids the world, whether that is Central Park or Grand Canyon National Park.   You'll see pictures of kids fishing, climbing, shooting, catching frogs, looking through telescopes, making headdresses out of found feathers, and all of it's good stuff.   But you don't see pictures of parents doing "the stuff," which is pretty ironic because much of this outdoor culture - or at least the ethic, the part of the mountain air or the salt water that runs through our blood, so to speak -  is inherited, not learned.  Those parents used to do cool stuff.  But I think I'm typical when I say that I've hardly had a picture snapped of me hunting, fishing, surfing, or climbing since my son was born.   I'm in a support role, a coach's role now.   Sometimes I try to remember what it used to feel like to go pursue these activities unencumbered.  To kick ass.   It's hard to remember when that time was (if it ever existed, ha ha).  But sometimes life gives us amazing, wonderful, and priceless moments. 

I was climbing with my soon near the PA-MD border recently and he said, "Let's eat our lunch on that rock table up there."  I said, "Well if we can both climb it, sure."   He, of course, scampered right up there.   I handed him the gear pack (of course, I pack in all the gear and water), then my phone and camera.   I then studied the 10' tall boulder for a minute and found what I thought were some jugs and foot holds big enough for a dude like me.    What I didn't know is that my son was waiting to take a picture of me as I was finishing the climb.  

This is not only the first picture of me climbing since he was born in 2009.  This is the first picture anyone has taken of me climbing or bouldering since 1998.    What a wonderful day.