Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Conservation is Complex (and Other Simple-minded Ramblings)

Singlebarbed (great post on rubber soles—not The Beatles Album) and Moldy Chum (news about lead-bans—check out the comments for the some interesting viewpoints) have posted some thoughts on conservation that have my old brain churning and thinking about something I don’t really like to think about (but kind of wish that I was good at): math.

I think as humans we want the simple answers. We want the one size that fits us all, the smoking gun, the neon finger that points to the solution. In short, we want grade-school math. I think it’s the way we are programmed. We tend to draw simple conclusions. We fill ignore gaps of reason almost subconsciously, ignore variables, pick out the answer that makes us think the least, and call it good. We want to understand things and not knowing is something that doesn’t sit well with our species. Unfortunately, human existence is far too complex to offer many simple solutions.

I am thinking mostly about conservation. As trout fisherman (or any kind of fisherman, really), we want to conserve the resource. Its simple and generally a good idea. Mostly we want to conserve the resource so we can enjoy it later. And so our kids can enjoy it, and our grandkids, and so on. So we look for simple solutions for saving that resource, that very, very, complex ecological resource. Felt soles carry invasive species? Well lets ban those babies and go with rubber soles! But ecology isn’t grade school subtraction—ecology is molecular physics or calculus on steroids. Ecology is, well, ecology.

Even though we don’t want to think about it, each choice we make sets off a host of chain reactions, the results of which we can’t really predict. We can try, but we also have to come to terms with the fact that we don’t know, really. Maybe some people know, the really smart ones, but even they tend to guess quite a bit, its just that their guesses are a lot more informed than ours. Bottom line, we hope we are doing the right thing, but we don’t know what effect our choices now will have twenty years down the line.

I’m not saying we should stop trying to save the resources and abandon conservation. I absolutely support TU and every other conservation group out there. I put time and money in when I can. I believe in the cause.

I just think its easy to look back on poor choices in the past and think how dumb people were. In the South Fork of the Snake, IDFG is paying people to kill the rainbow trout that are descendants of fish raised and planted by IDFG. It’s the kind of paradox that you have to laugh at to keep from crying. But we can only hope that we aren’t making some choice now that is going to cause the same kind of problem twenty years from now.

Here’s to hoping, because sometimes--with all the threats to our waters and fish, with all the variables we must calculate to solve difficult problems--hope is the only simple part of the whole thing.


The eddy is going fishing for a few days. When I return I should have some photos and a new, re-imagined edition of eddy music.


  1. Not to beat a dead horse on the oversimplification theme, but science is never done in a vacuum. Generally politics overrides or at least distorts the science. I can't imagine that science dictated the release of the original rainbow progenitors on the South Fork.

    Given the historically entrenched views and relatively short history of modern ecology, I actually take a more optimistic view of the progress and evolution of most scientific implementation. Certainly there are a number of spectacular examples of successful environmentalism.

  2. Right you are, especially concerning the South Fork. The reason for the example was simply to highlight the fact that no one (meaning the general public) thought that might be a bad choice at the time. I probably should have written 'fisheries management' rather than ecology, as they are certainly two different animals.

    The political factors are another variable in a very complex equation, which really was the point I was driving at. I don't lack faith in science. I just don't know if we have enough time to do all the math while so many fisheries (the South Fork, Yellowstone Lake, any watetr with aggressive invasive species) need us to come up with good solutions quickly.