Letter: Speculating on the ecosystem
Will Dolan (“An alarmist message,” May 30, The Aspen Times) completely missed the point of my recent letter (“Setting the record straight,” May 22, The Aspen Times).
I addressed ecosystems and the comparison of the upper Colorado to make a point about perceptions, what people “see” and what they think of as “normal.” It is hard for the untrained eye to “see” a damaged ecosystem without it being pointed out to them. People tend to think what they see is normal, even “pristine.”
The ecosystems around Aspen, from the streams to the forested wilderness, have gone through great alteration since silver was discovered. The ecosystems are recovering, but they are not what they were before we mined, logged, polluted and drained them.
I have made frequent references to recent scientific research in previous writings on this subject. Mr. Dolan apparently missed that.
He also apparently missed the talk by Ric Hauer and Harvey Locke at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies last year, and their visit the year before. Dr. Hauer is one of the world’s leading authorities on mountain stream ecosystems. I use his text in my classes.
Is what I think might happen to Castle and Maroon creeks speculative? Of course it is, but so is what we think will happen from climate change. Any statement about the future is speculative. But such speculation based on sound science and experience is how we avoid repeating past mistakes. I “speculate” that we are in for serious trouble from man made climate change. The streams will be deeply stressed as well. We can do better than creating a new problem through a purely symbolic attempt to address the larger one.
Bill Miller himself stated that he isn’t a stream ecologist, but rather a fisheries biologist (in a meeting with the city). He is one of the best, and I have tremendous respect for him. But three years of a narrow fish focused study hardly constitutes an acceptable “baseline” for long-term monitoring.
If the city is to make good on their promises and understand the full nature of the stream ecosystem they need to expand their “baseline” study to make it truly meaningful.
The fishery will likely be fine throughout out the short and limited monitoring program, as Dr. Miller states. But the fish are the last to be affected by a degraded ecosystem. Again, look at the upper Colorado, a gold medal fishery in the midst of a severely degraded ecosystem (Nehring, 2011). It took well over 30 years for this to happen and without restoration, the fishery will finally collapse, as well. Research also reveals that when more than 20 percent of a streams native flow is diverted significant ecosystem degradation is almost certain (Richter, 2011). The city plans to divert far more than that much of the year.
Aldo Leopold wrote that having an ecological education means that you live alone in a world of wounds that few others see. Most people will see the streams and thinking everything is just fine, when the reality may be very different.
But then this is all “speculation.”
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