NANFA-- worse than AARRGHH (longish)

Dave Neely (
Sat, 27 Apr 2002 10:15:13 -0500


>Okay guys. I want the honest truth. Do you also get the feeling that
>there is no hope left for the environment, or am I just over reacting?

The environment will eventually recover, no matter what we do to it. Problem
is, the time frame for recovery is likely to be (minimally) in the tens to
hundreds of thousands of years, and it will be a considerably less fun place
for humans to live during this time period.

We just had a visiting researcher that works on gizzard shad nutrient
dynamics. Since gizzard shad are one of the few detritus-feeding fish in
North America, they can cause problems by picking up heavy metals and
pollutants with their mouthfuls of sediment, incorporating it into their
tissues, and then serving as a bite-sized toxic waste dump for larger fish
(stripers, bass, flatheads, etc.).

Moral of the story? Don't eat big piscivores, especially if you are female,
and DEFINATLY NOT if you are pregnant.

Wait, that can't be right... This only affects places with fish advisories,


There's a study on mercury levels in largemouth bass in Alabama going on
right now. I know the post-doc that's doing most of the labwork. Over half
of the samples they examine are above the World Health Organization
recommended level for mercury in fish (which happens to be HALF the level
that Alabama Dept of Environmental Management thinks is dangerous). Alabama
has the highest allowable level of mercury in fish of any state in the US
(even Mississippi beats us - ya happy now Martin?). There's little
geographic pattern to the degree of contamination, other than places below
the Fall Line are partcularly bad. Even at individual sites, one fish may be
really high, while another may be "acceptable." To me, this seems like a
diet effect (shad vs. crayfish?), but this hasn't been worked out in detail

Across large parts of the US and Canada, large swaths of "wilderness" areas
have problems with mercury and other metal contamination - in part due to
natural weathering, but mostly due to deposition of acid precipitation.
Costs for 'cleaning up' such non-point source contamination would
"unnecesarily burden industries" if they were required to do so.

Think about this, this thould piss you off. If YOU took a dump on a shovel,
and flung it over the fence against your neighbor's house, then claimed you
didn't have to clean it up, you'd probably go to jail. Industries do this,
and it's considered OK.

Anyway, this guy also mentioned some work that he's involved in on Lake Erie
- the work done in the 80s and 90s to clean up the lake has made some
progress, helped to some degree by zebra mussels, that have moved metals and
DDT into the sediments (where folks had hoped they'd stay!). Water quality
in the lake has improved to the point that the burrowing mayflies
(Hexagenia, Ephemera, and others) have come back in large numbers. Awesome!
These guys used to form a critical link in the food chain! But wait... these
little guys are now doing the same thing as the gizzard shad I mentioned
earlier - moving toxins and metals out of the sediment, and putting it in
the form of a little tasty treat that walleye, perch, and steelhead love to
munch on. In other words, the progress we thought we made over the past 40
years in the Great Lakes has been a facade- we haven't really removed the
toxins from the environment, we've just covered them over with a bit of
sediment and hoped they'd go away.

So what's the solution?

I wish I knew. Our whole society is too focused on growing bigger and
bigger, no matter what the costs (Who's the economist that started using
"grow" as a verb!). I'm not convinced that it will have a happy ending,
unless we can be happy using less, making do with what we have, being more
efficient at resource use, wasting less resources, etc. Unfortunatly, that's
not likely. Our politicians (both parties) are too tied into industry to
make any meaningful change. Any change will come from grass-roots activism,
like Ray mentioned, and even these are likely to be small victories. Even
this won't happen without a higher degree of environmental literacy among
our citizens... Hmmm, guess what most politicians NEVER want to fund...

I gave the last lecture of the semester to my vertebrate zoology class last
Thursday. Conservation biology. Lots of failures, a handful of success
stories. About halfway through, I got to agroforestry. I have a couple of
slides of white oak trees from West Virginia that were 16 to 18 feet in
diameter at the base. They were cut about 1912, at the height of the first
big cut in the East. My students were blown away, trees that big were only
supposed to occur out in the redwood forests of California, right? Nope.
Lots of other trees almost as big. Pictures of men walking among these
giants, some of my kin among them. Hmmm, so why did passenger pigeons and
Carolina parakeets both go extinct in 1914? Was it all just hunting
pressure? What else did we lose in this first pulse of extinctions? The
amount of silt washing off the hills at this time was huge - how many fish
and mussels were never sampled? Keep in mind that most of the Tennessee
Valley (the center of fish diversity in North America) had been only
sporadically sampled before the 1940s, and much of it had never been sampled
before David Etnier got to the University of Tennessee in the late 60s!

So many fish are restricted to tiny ranges, imminent peril, and uncaring
landowners and politicians, that without people standing up and making a
fuss about non-game fishes and the habitats on which they depend, there's
little hope. The bright side of this is that even politicians recognize that
water isn't free anymore, and that conserving water resources has major
societal benefits.

Here's where NANFA comes in. This organization provides a very effective
means of getting the word out about critical issues, like how watersheds are
good things for local communities, treasures to be proud of. Every time I
get really down, and start feeling really cynical about how the environment
is in dire straits, I hear of these little victories: a 4th grade class that
a NANFA member takes out to their local stream; posters put up along walking
trails; videos of native faunas at their best; sucessful captive breeding
programs that mesh seamlessly with conservation genetic studies; programs to
eliminate introduced damnbusia... I think I even managed to sway a couple
of college students over to the good side this semester. It's a good

The little fights may be all we can win, but it sure beats sitting around
doing nothing, and hey, who knows, we might just get enough people
interested to make meaningful changes.

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