Friday, December 21, 2007

Community embodies Leopold?s land ethic

Mercury is a big issue for Silver Creek, but it is just one of many.

Trish Klahr is the watershed manager for The Nature Conservancy of Idaho, based in Hailey. Dayna Gross is the manager of The Nature Conservancy's Silver Creek Preserve, in Picabo.



The great conservationist Aldo Leopold wrote, "That land is a community is a basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics," and, "We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in."

We are reminded of that land ethic every day at Silver Creek. Here people experience, respect and love the stream and surrounding land in very real ways. For decades, the community has shown a passion for protecting this special area. Over the past few months, that passion for place was in full evidence as new issues surrounding Silver Creek emerged.

In August, a proposed regulation change to allow the taking of brown trout on the preserve caused immediate reaction. While most anglers opposed the regulation, what they mainly wanted was a chance for their voice to be heard.

In October, The Nature Conservancy held its second Silver Creek Symposium, an all-day event focusing on the water issues that face Silver Creek and the Wood River Valley. Attendees not only heard experts address all aspects of the valley's water supply, they also participated in breakout groups to help shape future conservation action in the valley. The thoughtful recommendations will be addressed by the newly formed Wood River Valley "water working group." (Please let us know if you would like to participate).

In November, Silver Creek made the news again, this time for elevated mercury levels found in brown trout. Some trout tested had four times the level of mercury considered safe for consumption by pregnant women and children. The source of this mercury is likely outside the valley, and probably even outside the state. It once again demonstrated just how interconnected nature is; pollution from hundreds of miles away can end up in our beautiful, clear streams.

Mercury is a big issue for Silver Creek, but it is just one of many, including rapid growth in the Wood River Valley, uncertain future for our water supply and the impacts of climate change.

But these are workable challenges. You can find evidence for hope every day. We see it in the people who come together to learn about water issues, those who write letters, those who attend public meetings. We see it each summer as volunteers show up to plant trees, restore habitat and control weeds. And we see it as we look across the valley—full of working farms and ranches and wildlife and open space—and realize that this beautiful protected area could only be possible with a tremendous commitment from people who care about the land.

This holiday season, The Nature Conservancy would like to thank the community—the landowners, the preserve visitors, the anglers and guides, our members—who have worked so hard to conserve Silver Creek. You embody Leopold's land ethic. You show what communities can accomplish around the world when they love and care for their natural "backyard."

We look forward to another year of working with you, creatively addressing the challenges. And in this new year, here's wishing you many days on the water, days with fly rod or binoculars in hand, days of great hatches and great beauty and magic.

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