Angela Johnson, your SCFF secretary, and I spent the day at the Water Harvest Festival at the park in Soquel this October 20th, 2019. SCFF had a very nice "booth", with lots of fly-fishing paraphernalia to make for a nice enticing show-and-tell. There were approximately 200 attendees all interested in something to do in the park on this beautiful October sunny day in Soquel, California, surrounding water, harvest and wild things. Today confirmed what Angela was describing as a raising of the historical bar on the dilution of what we know today about the species of plants and animals on the planet. It's something I hadn't quite thought of before.
Our ancestors remember days when Grizzlies and wolves roamed California. When we lived among the wildest of things. Then "wild" was reduced to the black bear, mountain lion and coyote. Now people freak out when they see a skunk, raccoon or an opossum. Only recently did I realize beaver were prevalent on the San Lorenzo, only to be purposely eradicated because of the flooding they caused on the river.
It's called historical amnesia, or shifting baseline syndrome. Visit parts of Alaska and you'll understand. Last year, when visiting my brother-in-law and nephew, they wouldn't let the little kids go from one property to another alone because Grizzly (Brown Bear) can be very dangerous. But while I was there, I thought nothing of going back and forth - without at least being very aware of the possibility of an encounter. One I'd hoped for. The baseline of "wild" in Alaska is still the Grizzly, still 100,000 plus salmon in one river.
I guess it's like we've grown so far away from what was, that we don't even know it was what it was, then. You following me? I mean, Grizzlies are so far gone and 67,000 cars per day over Highway 17 are so normal, we have become diluted on what wild and peace and quiet are anymore.
For example, there were people who came to our booth, who have property along Soquel and San Lorenzo Rivers. Property that is on the river/creek. And yet, they did not know there are "fish" in the river. Fish, like big fish you can see. Not minnows. Naturally, if they were to look for Steelhead, or Coho, I explained when that would be, where it would be - then I explained how difficult it is to see these fish unless the time is right, they are super stealthy, and how they can best take care of that section of the river/creek, to be the stewards for the young of the year, during their life cycle, so they knew when that care was most critical.
If there was any significant impact we made today, it was on those who still need to know, and seem genuinely interested to know, that Aptos, Soquel Pajaro, Salinas, San Lorenzo, Scott, Waddell, Pescadero - are places where Steelhead and Coho can be seen and can be seen more of.
Humans, young and old, male and female, came by. Many had their own interpretation of what we were and who we were. The littlest, most genuine. It was interesting to hear them tell us who they thought we were before we had a chance to say anything - fishing people, people who fish with flies that attract fish to chomp on them. Why is it called "fly-fishing"? Where do you fly-fish in Santa Cruz, how do you fly-fish, and if you can fly-fish in the ocean, how did that come to be if it's fishing with a fly? If you're fishing just to let the fish go -why do it anyhow? If you're fishing and you don't want to kill anything, why hurt the fish? All very thought-provoking, good questions from folks who could be suffering from their own historical amnesia. Forgetting that to eat, we once had to raise our own food, go out and hunt it, and compete for the same deer or steelhead that a Grizzly was equally entitled to eat.
I suppose fly-fishing might have its roots in a more "stuffsisticated" means of angling for sport rather than for sustenance, at a time when our heritage was moving away from hunting for the means of survival. Moving to a sport where killing the fish was not only not necessary, but is now not a means of sustain a fishery, even for the sake of saving a species from extinction - our own shifting baseline syndrome.
There were once over 25,000 Steelhead returning to the San Lorenzo River, maybe more. When the Ohlone and other original inhabitants of this land fished for sustenance and they knew that it would not be possible if they did not care for the land or the water. Then we grew, and grew and grew; everyone wanting to live in California. The consequences were dire for the Steelhead, Coho, Chinook and other species. Today, our amnesia has us believing that 5% of the original population of wild Steelhead and zero wild Coho is acceptable. Some so far as to be ignorant altogether that a body of water like our coastal waters, wouldn't have any fish in them at all. Where did that science class fail?
Even the water fish get today is carefully metered to within ten or fifteen CFS so the fish get only what's proven to let them survive, so we can give more to the more and more who want to live here. And still get corralled in nets, anesthetized, counted, measured and a tag shoved in their belly all for the sake of determining their health - by a government standard - called normal? Some die in the process. Is even 1% of the remaining 5% acceptable? There are still those who come here, not knowing or caring there are fish in the river, that a skunk or a squirrel is a "wild" animal. Where no one will know that a Black Bear can be brown, or that a Brown Bear was a Grizzly, a coyote is not a wolf, and it's here to keep the rodent (and turkey) population in control, and that rat poison kills not just rats, but everything that eats rats - bobcat, fox, owl - the other "wild" animals.
There is hope. There are the few. They are young, old, male, female. We met some today. They want to do their part fixing this amnesia shifting the baseline back. Even if it means they learned about it from some fly-fishing, tree-hugging, water loving, wildlife enthusiasts just sharing the love. Get out there and share! Peace out.