Thursday, April 30, 2015

Shifting Baselines

Our ecological memory has a lot to do with how we perceive normal in today’s environment. How we recognize whether our systems are becoming impaired are based on how we define normal, which is largely based on this memory. It is heartbreaking to think that my grandkids might not even miss spring time herring runs. They might not even know they ever existed to recognize they are missing. The concept of shifting baselines usually pertains to ecosystems becoming impaired, and us not realizing it generation to generation. As soon as I got into the pool I see a school of black nosed dace ply the current in a swirling black silver and gold cloud. A sucker takes one look at me and rockets out of sight upstream. I see two fish that aren’t all that familiar to me just upstream of the dace. A pair of brook trout held in a hole next to a small log. Their colors are striking with deep red bellies that grade to green mottled sides. Their crimson fins are white tipped and seem to glow. Brook trout are reversing the baseline here. Brook trout were native to our eastern streams. Sedimentation, warming waters, and non native trout that we stock drove the brookies from many creeks. These brook trout are a mix of native fish and trout fry raised by school students in their classrooms in a program run by Trout Unlimited and the Lancaster Conservancy. It is all part of an effort to restore Climbers Run to what it once was, and what it should be once again. I don’t have any memory of brook trout in the creeks I explored as a kid. But they should have been there. I didn’t know they were missing. Brook trout in streams is a new thing for me. The norm were banded killis and black nosed dace, suckers and crayfish. The streams I explored were all impaired, significantly. But I didn’t know that. To me they were still these amazing places that held unlimited mysteries, and my attention. I watched the brook trout swim beside each other. I am still mesmerized by streams and my new concept of what normal should include. My memory of what impaired means is moving to the good and my baseline was just shifted.

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