Mormons, Irrigation, and Community

Data point # 1:

The first Mormon pioneers came into the Great Salt Lake valley on July 22, 1847.  The third week of July is late in the season to plant a crop, so they immediately began to plow in preparation for planting, but their wooden plowshares broke on the hardened soil.  Consequently, they built a small dam and diverted the water from city creek onto the plot of earth they had selected.  When Brigham Young descended Emigration canyon two days later, on July 24, there were already several acres of potatoes and turnips under cultivation on the ground that is now between State Street and 2nd East and 2nd and 3rd South.  They understood, without having to discuss it, that their success depended on their cooperative effort.  They would survive together, or they wouldn’t survive at all.

They followed this pattern in the numerous other settlements they built in the Mormon corridor.  One of the first orders of business was to dam the stream at the mouth of the canyon in order to save the snowmelt and runoff so they could use the water as a community resource to irrigate crops, gardens, and orchards.  It didn’t enter anyone’s mind that the water might be private property, but instead it was universally understood that the system of dams, canals, and ditches which made the water available was the result of the collective knowledge and effort of the group, and that the water was to be shared.  We still have a reminder of this in the way people in rural Utah towns talk about “the water turn”.  One doesn’t think of water as a personal possession; one takes one’s turn.

Data point # 2:

For centuries, the sockeye salmon has been swimming upstream to spawn in Idaho’s Salmon River.  It is 900 river miles from the saltwater of the Pacific to the headwaters of the Salmon.  Redfish Lake, high in central Idaho’s mountains, was named for this gorgeous, brightly-colored Onchorhynchus nerka which passes through the lake to the spawning grounds upstream.

As recently as 50 years ago, tens of thousands of sockeye completed the journey upstream and spawned successfully, thus ensuring another generation.  But anadromous species like salmon are especially susceptible to habitat degradation.  Their eggs need the right kind of gravel and flowing, oxygenated water in order to hatch.  In 2003, the Idaho Division of Natural Resources said that only three (3) sockeye made it to the spawning beds.  The DNR reported, in typical bureaucrat-ese,  that the upper Salmon River had been “dewatered”.  A landowner who had legal water rights had diverted the entire stream onto his field of grass hay.  The landowner got another $500 worth of low quality hay, and in exchange, the wild Idaho sockeye is gone, and it’s gone for good.

It is worth asking ourselves how we got to this point.  How did we ever get the idea that it is good and right for somebody to own 300 feet of a 900 mile river, and that the owner can do whatever he wants with the river, including strip-mining the gravel off the dry streambed?  You don’t have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to see the problem.  Look at it from purely a dollars and cents standpoint.  When the farmer dried up the stream where the fish were trying to spawn, he put people downstream out of business.  The outfitters and fishing guides, the marinas, the bait and tackle shops, manufacturers of boats, lifejackets, rods and reels, they all suffered a loss of income.  That means that the communities along the river also were adversely effected.  The girl scout cookies went unsold, the little league team went unsponsored, the taxes and license fees went uncollected.  Even the most ardent proponent of laissez-faire has to recognize that our market economy failed to accurately place a value on the water in the upper Salmon River basin.

One of the lessons that emerges quite clearly from the Book of Mormon is that we don’t thrive as individuals, but as societies.  There is no such thing in the Book of Mormon as a righteous, prosperous individual surrounded by the poor.  The blessings of well-being and prosperity are bestowed upon groups and communities, and not upon individuals.  Our well-being as individuals depends, more than anything else, upon being part of a society where people recognize their dependence upon one another, esteem their neighbors as themselves and where people try to extend their blessings to others among whom they live.  “For Zion must increase in beauty…; her borders must be enlarged, her stakes must be strengthened…”  (D&C 82:14)  Being part of Zion means recognizing the people who live downstream as brothers and sisters, and taking due regard for them.


70 responses to “Mormons, Irrigation, and Community

  1. Steve May 18, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Mark —

    I have to disagree with the Idaho portions of your commentary.

    First, the sockeye run is highly cyclic. Of note, the 2010 run was the largest since 1956. There is discussion of opening it to fishing again. One bad year does not eliminate the species because others are in the Pacific and will return in future years.

    Second, no private individual can own a piece of a major river bed. The State of Idaho owns the bed up the average high water mark on both sides. Of note, the State is the owner of the water too (though private parties may have usage rights).

    Third, the anecdote of the Salmon River is off. The upper reaches are wilderness and not suitable for farming. There is a bit of farming near Salmon but those operations divert only a small portion of the water flow (most divert from tributaries).

  2. Mark Brown May 18, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Steve, thanks for the input.

    I think we are talking about different things. The sockeye that are now returning are all hatchery stock, not wild fish. See this article:

    You are right, one bad year does not eliminate the species, but a fish with a 4 year life cycle cannot survive 5 years in a row of single digit returns. The sockeye we are now seeing are all grown in hatcheries, at a cost of millions of dollars per annum.

    The Idaho DNR has identified stream dewatering (believe me, I didn’t make that term up) in the Stanley basin as a hazard to the salmon:
    “…streams dried in whole or in part by water withdrawals…are responsible for loss of salmon habitat.”

  3. Steve May 18, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Mark —

    I just don’t think the sockeye’s is as grim as you are painting.

    Most sockeyes are being bred in the hatcheries. Genetically they are identical to wild stock. The reason for the hatchery program is that it greatly increases survivability. Wild versus hatchery is not a meaningful distiction.

    As to dewatering, that is not referring to the Stanley basin (which is a very high mountain valley devoid of agriculture) and the much larger Salmon, Snake and Columbia valleys which do have issues.

    I do agree with your general point about the communal nature of irrigation. I just think your Idaho example is flawed.

  4. Mark Brown May 19, 2011 at 5:03 am

    This paper addresses the issue of stocked vs. native salmon and also the issue of irrigation in the Stanley basin. The irrigation diversions on the Busterback ranch were identified as major impediments to spawning salmon.

  5. Ben Park May 19, 2011 at 7:20 am

    This is fantastic stuff, Mark.

  6. John Mansfield May 19, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Mark, here’s another one for you from “Mesquite and Sage: Spencer W. Kimball’s Early Years” by Ronald W. Walker, BYU Studies 25:4:

    The citizens of Thatcher learned firsthand of the fragility of their environment and the exploitative nature of some “special interests.” The mines upriver in Clifton and Morenci for a period dumped their tailings in the San Francisco River, a tributary to the Gila. “The hard clay came in our irrigation water . . . and coated our farmlands, our productive acres, with a hard layer . . . almost like cement and crops could not push their blades out through it.” Spencer and his family were not taken in by the laissez-faire slogans of the mine owners. “Freedom for whom?” he asked in disgust. Eventually the controversy was settled favorably to the settlers by litigation.

  7. mfranti May 19, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Fantastic post, Mark. There’s so much here I don’t even know where to start.

    I’ll start with an easy example.

    In Appalachia, mountain top removal not only turns beautiful mountains into moon-like landscapes, it kills everything in sight (in one of the US’s most biologically diverse areas), it pollutes the rivers and streams, and devastates communities and economies.

    Who owns that water? Who owns those mountains? How come Big Coal is able to pollute and destroy on such a grand scale?

    Oh because they have the right to make money and it trumps the citizens’ right to breath clean air, drink unpolluted water, and the animals’ right to live.

    But my critics will ask me how I expect to use my computer w/o coal generated electricity?

    I don’t have an answer, but that doesn’t mean that the way it’s done now with death and destruction of land, people and communities is the only answer.

    The idea that what’s cheapest, easiest and most productive for Big Biz in the short term shouldn’t be the only consideration. My god, in what other life situation do we promote short term gains over long term success? Mormons are all about preparing for long term success. That’s why the love affair American Mormons have with the free market and individual success, et al. confuses me.
    Biz is only concerned with how much money they generate in a quarter for their shareholders. It does not care about anything else. It has no soul, no feelings, it doesn’t care for people or communites or environments. It’s nothing more than a money generating machine.

    Kinda selfish, I think.

    And yet, people worship it because they think their individual right to make money and keep it all outweighs the collective rights of a society. The built society that educated and provided them with the opportunity to make money in the first place. Individuals thrive when their society thrives and societies thrive when their individuals are educated (and a whole host of collectively paid for items) and the environment is well cared for–since we require it for our survival.

    I’ve decided to delete a few lines of this comment because it’s getting way too long. 🙂

  8. Steve May 19, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Mark —

    Isolated sentences from old reports don’t capture the current reality.

    Busterback Ranch’s water rights were bought by the US Forest Service some years ago and the diversion removed.

    The area you are talking about has never been an ag production area. It is simply too high and too rugged. The area historically had ranches but most are gone. The area today is almost exclusively recreational.

    As to whether the eggs are raised in a stream or hatchery, the fish biologists see no differece except higher survival rates with the latter.

    Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs have been exceptionally strong the past few years, some of the best since the 1950s and 1960s. Real issues remain, mostly the future of the big dams on the Snake and Columbia. But, trying to blame farmers who have little footprint in the Upper Salmon region is simply inaccurate.

  9. Mark Brown May 19, 2011 at 2:53 pm


    Let’s begin with what I think we agree on. As you noted, in past decades the way cropland was irrigated proved detrimental to salmon stocks, thus necessitating the buyout of water rights by the forest service and others. We also agree, I think, that wild salmon are gone, and the salmon runs which exist now are almost totally dependent on hatchery fish.

    I also agree that the dams on the Snake and Columbia are the biggest causes for the decline of the salmon population, and apologize if I gave the impression that the small farmer was the main cause of the problem.

    So where we stand now is that the salmon are decimated to the point that natural reproduction is unable to sustain the species, long-term. I think our one big disagreement is with your claim that the multi-million dollar hatchery effort is just as good, or almost just as good as wild fish.

    David James Duncan is an advocate for western rivers, and he said this in an interview about the Idaho sockeye:

    “At the sockeye facility at Redfish the techno-utopians who run the place had written WELCOME HOME SOCKEYES! on the labratory wall where they kill and slit open the guts of every returning fish and start throwing antibiotics and antifungals to fight the head-rot the salmon get from concrete tank abrasions, and maybe athlete’s foot ointment and Preparation H too. They’d climbed 7000 feet and swum a thousand miles to be WELCOMED HOME to quick graceless murder and the immersion of their offspring in an industrial sockeye Mitigation Soup. At every dam, going and coming, this crew had filmed young and old salmon crushed or flumed or tagged or handled or sucked into barges or fought over or devoured by introduced predators or miscounted or techno-diddled. They had not seen ONE wild salmon doing what wild salmon were created to do.”

  10. Steve May 19, 2011 at 4:38 pm


    It looks like you have a preconceived notion and you are willing to use flawed evidence to support it.

    As to Mr. Duncan, he makes hatchery egg harvesting look like a cruel and murderous process. What he fails to mention is the fate of every salmon who returns to spawn — as has been so for ever — they arrive battered and frayed and, then, they spawn and die. Duncan makes it appear as some outcome unique to hatcheries — it is the fate of ever salmon.

    As i noted above, it is truly irrelevant where the fish spawns. As the sockeye numbers grow, more will be allowed to die in the streams and lakes. That is what has happened with other varieties. Hatcheries are a key tool in recovery, not an evil one.

  11. missy. May 19, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Steve- I am not a fish biologist, but I feel curious about this idea you keep reiterating: that there is “no meaningful distinction” between wild and hatchery fish. I don’t see how it’s possible that we could ever know that for sure. The history of science is full of examples where humans believed they were adequately replacing natural processes, but where the replications proved to be inadequate and/or harmful. As a general rule nature proves quite inimitable, so it’s difficult for me to see how we could deduce that it is “irrelevant where the fish spawns.”

    The David James Duncan quote resonates closely with other accounts I’ve read about hatcheries. We all know that salmon die, but the question of the conditions of their births, lives, and deaths should still concern us–particularly when we are directly responsible for destroying and disrupting their natural cycles in the first place.

  12. missy. May 19, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Also: Mark, I love this post, especially that last paragraph. Thanks.

  13. mfranti May 19, 2011 at 5:40 pm


    Do these “genetically identical” hatchery fish restore ecosystems , from the ocean to the spawning location, that existed before damming, overfishing, destruction of habitat, etc. occurred?

    I haven’t read up on this particular fish’s story, but I’m familiar enough w/ other similar stories and the answer is the same: No. (though I’m happy to be corrected because I haven’t done my homework.)

    Human technological solutions to repair once perfect (an absolutely perfect) systems, often cause more problems down the line that have to be dealt with (often at great cost).

    I’m hoping that you’ll take my advice and try to see this and other issues related to our environment from a slightly less anthropocentric point of view.

  14. mfranti May 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Missy: The history of science is full of examples where humans believed they were adequately replacing natural processes, but where the replications proved to be inadequate and/or harmful. As a general rule nature proves quite inimitable, so it’s difficult for me to see how we could deduce that it is “irrelevant where the fish spawns.”

    You beat me to the point.

  15. Brad May 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Someone needs to re-watch Jurassic Park…

  16. Mark Brown May 19, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Steve, I’m not sure what else to say. I admire your willingness to look on the bright side and see some kind of silver lining in the catastrophic destruction of salmon habitat. However, I take exception to your claim that hatchery salmon are no different from wild ones, and especially take exception to your assertion that I am using flawed evidence to support my argument. There is not a fish biologist on earth who wouldn’t prefer wild stocks, to say nothing of the cost of the hatchery program. Here is a report on the question of wild vs. hatchery salmon, and it includes this important point.
    “Salmon hatcheries can provide a number of benefits to society, but reliance on salmon hatcheries as a substitute for the conservation of wild populations is risky as a long-term conservation strategy. “

    Here’s the link to the entire paper, if you’re interested.

  17. Steve May 19, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Missy —

    Understand the choice a decade ago . . We could have let the sockeye go extinct. With small returns of under 10 that could have easily happened. Instead, we took the returnees and nurtured their offspring in the hatcheries. Today, we have the largest returns since the 1950s.

    One path would have wiped out the species. The other led to its survival.

    The only reason I got into this debate was because of the false claims of evil Salmon River farmers. Let me reiterate. This area really doesn’t have farms, rather it has ranches. The ranches have mostly gotten out of the business of impacting salmon habitat. The real issue on the salmon are the big Columbia and lower Snake River dams. Barging and better ladders are helping. The critical issue is if they are enough.

    P.S. I am believe in solid environmental protection. But it must be based on solid science not emotionalism.

  18. mfranti May 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Steve: But it must be based on solid science not emotionalism.

    Can you give me an example of environmental protection based on emotionalism?

  19. Steve May 19, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    There is a bit of silliness in this discussion.

    The choice was not to let the sockeye breed wild or not. It was literally whether they would continue or not. The choice that was made preserved the species.

    As noted above, this posting began with defamatory posts about Idaho farmers (of note, I was in the key area Monday). Now, it has mutated into this anti-science, anti-biologist bit. Kind of weird.

    Again, the long term issue has little to do with the Stanley Basin. The key issues are hundreds of miles to the West.

  20. Steve May 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Mfranti —

    The whole wild versus hatchery spawning bit is exactly.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, i should note that I have spent some time in the key hatcheries.

  21. Brad May 19, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    “Now, it has mutated into this anti-science, anti-biologist bit. Kind of weird.”

    That strikes me as a rather silly and defamatory thing to say…

  22. Steve May 19, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Brad —

    The statements above indicated that the successful efforts of the biological scientists to preserve the sockeye salmon were evil.

    I think my statement was accurate, therefore not defamatory.

  23. Brad May 19, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    When you can show me a statement that actually calls the efforts in question evil, you can feel free to describe your characterizations of your interlocutors’ statements as “accurate.” Until then, they remain every bit as defamatory as the descriptions of idaho ranchers in the original post.

  24. Aaron R. May 20, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Great work, Mark. Recently I finished a book by Wendell Berry. One of the potential difficulties with how he framed local communities and food production is reflected in how ‘local’ is understood when we are speaking of a 900 mile river. Although I find Berry’s notion appealing problematic I wonder if you had any thoughts about how he, or you, might resolve this tension?

  25. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 8:41 am

    Aaron, which book by Berry did you read?

  26. Steve May 20, 2011 at 9:04 am


    What on earth do you think the meaning is of the David James Duncan and the subsequent hatchery bashing? Clearly Mr. Duncan saw the hatchery as a place of torture as did several of the commentators.

    I shared these posts with some Idaho folks. They thought this was hilarious.

  27. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Of course it’s hilarious.

    If I wrote a post on why it’s important, from and ecological perspective, to protect wolves or any other apex predator that likes to eat sheep, many many Idahons (and westerners) would think it was hilarious.

  28. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 10:19 am


    I just did a simple search wild vs hatchery fish and I’ll admit to not reading every article in detail, but right away I see that hatchery fish cause problems for wild populations. And this is from the scientific POV.

    It’s very possible that down on the list there’s some links to support your position.

    Did you also do a search before you commented?

  29. Steve May 20, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Mfranti —

    I think — at the core — we are not communicating directly.

    As I noted above, my original flashpoint were the utterly false claim that farmers that don’t exist in the particular area killed off the sockeye.

    Then we shifted to the critical role of hatcheries in preserving the sockeye. What strong me and the locals as odd was the claim that they were the equivalent of animal abuse.

    Your wolf example is an interesting one.

    Your perspective is the Westerners don’t want to protect the wolf.

    The local view is that wolves have, since their reintroduction, grown so numerous that they are now an aggressive pest. They are certainly no longer endangered (we now have hundreds of breeding pairs) and are arguably overthinning elk and deer in addition to the sheep. Thus justifying some effort to cap their numbers.

  30. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

    the utterly false claim that farmers that don’t exist in the particular area killed off the sockeye.

    Steve, you yourself have admitted that the U.S. Forest Service bought out the water rights from the Busterback ranch. Why do you think that transaction occurred? If any part of your answer is that it was necessary to get rid of irrigation diversions (as was noted in the paper you dismissed as “isolated sentences from old reports”) in order to rehabilitate fisheries habitat, you need to drop the charge that I am lying. I never made the claim that irrigators are the primary cause of the collapse of salmon stocks, and I have since clarified again. We can continue to disagree about the value and long-term prospects of hatchery salmon, but I ask that you drop the false charge that I made up stuff about non-existent irrigators. I’ve cited official papers from the state division of wildlife, if you want to accuse them of lying, be my guest.

    Here is yet another study which identifies 58 irrigation diversions in the Stanley which have contributed to the decline of the sockey. Of special interest is the claim that “the diversion at Busterback ranch on Alturas Lake Creek in the Stanley Basin, dewatered the creek, completely blocking sockeye salmon.”

    I’m happy to be a source of humor to you and your buddies, but you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t share in your hilarity. Also, stop calling me a liar.

  31. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 11:30 am

    The local view is that wolves have, since their reintroduction, grown so numerous that they are now an aggressive pest. They are certainly no longer endangered (we now have hundreds of breeding pairs) and are arguably overthinning elk and deer in addition to the sheep. Thus justifying some effort to cap their numbers.

    Steve, Thanks for proving my point.

    From a anthropocentric POV, one that has dollar bills on it, wolves need to be thinned. Now I’ll have to write a post on wolves.

    My overall point with the fish/wolves is that we’ve messed with their systems to make a few bucks and when we try to imitate nature to undo the damage we caused, we end up causing more problems down the line.

    I’d like to see some things preserved not because they have a dollar value, but because they exist. Emotionalism? So be it.

  32. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Look on page 88 of that link to find the paragraph about the upstream passage of sockeye. Also, I was wrong about one thing. There were 68, not 58, irrigation diversions in the Stanley basin which were identified as detrimental to the sockeye. Of course, Steve will now tell us that those diversions were imaginary, since there are no farmers in that area.

  33. Steve May 20, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Mark —

    This is resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding.

    Your original posting claimed that a farmer caused the sockeye near extinction by watering his hay.

    That was simply inaccurate.

    The Stanley Basis is a very high mountain valley. It is very, very harsh in climate. It is surrounded by the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains. But, it is only frost free for a couple months a year. Because of that, I don’t believe farming agriculture has ever been even attempted in the area.

    What has been done is some ranching. The ranching means cattle or sheep. Many of the ranchers have obtained the right to get water for their lifestock. But, that is a far different operation than growing a crop.

    Now, as you noted their is a fair number of historic ranching water rights. But, a couple points to understand. First, this is a huge area geographically. It is larger than many Eastern states. That many rights spread out mean very few in any individual area — imagine the entire State of Rhode Island having 10-12 small water users. Second, the ranching operations don’t run year round (because of the climate). The typically bring the livestock in for a few months during the Summer. Third, and most important, almost all of those rights have since been terminated (the reports you are reading are often decades old). In, I believe, the majority of the cases, the ranchers stopped operating. Finally, today, the Stanley Basin is almost elusively a recreational area — it is neither a ranching nor farming area.

    I know this area very, very well. I just spent time in it earlier this week. An enormous amount of economic activity has been forgone and large amounts of tax money has gone into preserving the fish habitat and the fish runs. Claiming it is some kind of ecological disaster is simply wrong.

    Mfranti —

    Can I ask which part of the U.S. you are in? I sense a strong disdain for those who have to live with the wolves. Wolves are not gentle creatures. The aggressive and often vicious. I know folks who have had their dogs drug off and killed from their yard. I know of a rancher that has lost a fourth of his herd to them. I know folks who keep their kids close when they go to their cabin. Most of the arguments being made locally are not economic. They are personal safety. I believe that is a legitimate interest.

  34. Steve May 20, 2011 at 12:11 pm


    Here is a link to a “ranch” listed in the area:

    Notice the total absence of cattle or farm fields. A few decades ago, this is one of the places that would have been diverted water to water cattle. It has been out of operation for decades. You’ll notice it is now being sold for recreational use.

    That is the pattern throughout the area.

  35. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Steve, you are simply proving my point. Nowhere have I claimed that the decline of salmon happened yesterday due to a single farmer’s abuse of irrigation. You might have understood that, but that is your problem. My point is that irrigation in previous decades contributed to the problems we have now. The conversion to recreational use came about partly because agricultural uses were detrimental to the fisheries, and the government and some of those environmentals you think are hilarious caused changes to be made.

    Every study that I have cited says that the diversions were used for irrigation, but you are certainly free to believe that they were just used for watering cattle and sheep.

  36. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Also, within the past decade I have personally harvested irrigated grass hay on a ranch in the Lemhi basin, another watershed on the Salmon River, so you can spare me your lectures about ranchers using irrigation only for cattle and sheep.

  37. Steve May 20, 2011 at 12:44 pm


    Here is a Google map satellite view:,+Custer,+Idaho&gl=us&ll=44.371969,-114.970551&spn=0.812805,1.31012&t=h&z=10

    Please identify all the farm fields in the area around Stanley and north.

    Note how incredibly mountainous this area is. . .

    I think part of the problem is that folks from of the area are conflating cattle watering and crop watering.

  38. Steve May 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm


    If you are familiar with the Lemhi Valley, that is helpful (Isn’t Salmon beautiful? I was there two weeks ago.)

    That area is about the only agriculture along the entire Salmon. But, I think you would acknowledge that is pretty limited and that the vast majority of the river flows unimpeded. There is also a bit near Challis. But, almost the entire course of the river is free of such use.

  39. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm


    Satellite images and geography. My specialty.

  40. Brad May 20, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Steve, the fact that spawning salmon naturally die as part of the process does not automatically render the systematic killing and gutting of the hatchery fish ethically unproblematic. Nobody here called it an unalloyed evil, though it was described as both morally troubling (as compared with the natural, evolved life and reproductive processes of the salmon) and as a far from adequate solution to the widespread ecological disruptions that flow from the initial disappearance of the wild salmon. The thrust of the argument is not that the efforts of biologists to intervene and attempt to fix a devastating problem are pure evil, but rather that the destruction of the wild salmon populations has produced problems that entail both ethically ambiguous and ecologically inadequate scientific stopgaps to aid population recovery. The re-increase in numbers is far from a complete fix, and comes at a high cost for people troubled by human violence against (as opposed to naturally occurring deaths of) animal groups.

    Whether the historic water diversions were for crop or cattle watering is wholly immaterial to the central argument Mark made, which is that the diversions—rooted as they were in notions of river-water as private property subject to private control with little regard for either environmental impacts or the impact on downstreamers—produced unforeseeable and extremely unfortunate long-term environmental and economic consequences for all parties and members of the social and ecological communities implicated by the life of the river.

  41. Steve May 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Brad —

    I guess we are going to have to set the hatchery issue aside. I’m just not seeing a moral dimension to taking a fish that is a day or two away from death and creating conditions where its offspring can survive.

    On the infamous diversion, blaming the diminshment of the sockeye on the minimal efforts of a few ranchers, most who stopped doing so decades ago, is just odd when there much more/direct impacts. Take a peek at the map above and tell me how that rugged landcape ever had enough ranchers or farmers to do anything significant. Didn’t happen.

    The true impact was in Oregon and Washington with big dams, power production and big farms, not the few guys and gals in the Stanley Basin.

  42. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Steve, to answer your question from earlier, I live in the west.

  43. Brad May 20, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    No one has argued for a unicausal relationship between rancher/irrigation diversions and salmon population depletion, but the former were definitely factors in the latter over recent decades. That’s all Mark argued, and he used the rancher as an example of how seemingly isolated resource-use choices can have serious, negative communal-ecological effects. This was an essay on the impact of individual choices on community concerns, not on the effects of big dams. Neither tilting at windmills nor snidely dismissing the very valid concerns of your interlocutors is conducive to productive conversation.

  44. Steve May 20, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Brad —

    The reason I’ve been so aggressive on this point is that, in the past 20 years or so, no one has made the arguement that agricululture in the Stanley Basin is a relevant factor with the sockeye salmon. Why? Because the minimal local impacts were mitigated decades ago.

    Yet, the initial post blamed one non-existent farmer for the sockeye’s demise.

    Given that the example was innacurate, it undermines the initial arguement.

    Again, look at the map. You are not going to see any significant farms. Farms are plentiful in Idaho. Just not in this location.

  45. Brad May 20, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Mark did not ascribe unicausal blame to a single isolated farmer, though he has furnished evidence that credible sources have, in fact, argued for a not insignificant impact of farmer/rancher/irrigation based water diversion on river vitality and salmon populations. His argument in no way depends on my ability to identify significant farmland on a contemporary map of the region.

  46. Steve May 20, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Brad —

    Obviously, I’m a glutton for punishment.

    Please reread the initial post. It talks about the sockeye numbers being minimal in 2003. It then uses one sentence talking about one diverter, identifies him as a farmer and says that he stopped the flow on the Upper Salmon River to water his hay and that killed off the fish.

    As I have repeatedly noted, there are no farms in this area. It is too high and too cold. I just looked up the last frost date — it is July 20th. The first frost is August 8th! That means that there is not even a month of growing season.

    Further research showed that the diverter mentioned was a single ranch. That it at one point diverted the flow of one single creek (not the Salmon River), and, most relevantly, it had been bought out and all diversion stopped a couple decades ago.

    This afternoon, I have checked all the water rights in the Stanley Basin. Of note, this area is bigger than the entire State of Rhode Island. There are about 60 water rights in the area. Most were very small, designed to water a few cattle (most have less water than comes out of a hose). Almost every single one was bought decades ago and diversions stopped. So, even the water that was being pulled out was devoted to the salmon BEFORE the sockeye became scare early in the 2000s.

    Most of the documents referenced above were issued decades ago and almost every issue in the Stanley Basin was tackled when I was high school.

    The facts are apparently not relevant here, it is the ideology that evil farmers (that don’t exist) are the true evil culprits. I’ve called that out for the silly falsehood it is.

    Look, I love the salmon. I’ve seen them since I was a kid. I fully supported efforts to improve habitat, increase survivability, and revive weak runs. But, the true problems today on the salmon are hundreds of miles away, not in Central Idaho.

    But, I’m not going to let armchair enviros defame my state using inaccurate examples. Idaho is a great state. We have more forest than we had 50 years ago, great wilderness areas, and vigorous (sometimes overly vigorous) wildlife populations.

  47. Steve May 20, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    First paragraph should read:

    “It then uses one sentence from a report . . . “

  48. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    “But, I’m not going to let armchair enviros defame my state using inaccurate examples.”

    Heh, an ecologist/biologist, a geographer, a geologist, an urban planner..what else? There’s more of us but I can’t think of what we all do right now.

    I hardly thing we’re armchair enviros.

  49. Steve May 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    mfranti —

    That was a fair retort. I feel chastened.

    I think I got spun up because of what I saw as clear examples that were disconnected from the facts on the ground.

  50. Brad May 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    To assert that anyone here is promoting an ideology of evil and nonexistent farmers as evil culprits is a silly falsehood. No one defamed your state. In fact I’d say it could be rather easily argued that the post and subsequent commenting was motivated my a genuine love and concern for Idaho. Chillax, Steve.

  51. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Good grief Steve, this is getting tedious. You misread the original post, you have disregarded two subsequent comments where I clarified my position, and yet you continue this line of argument. lI have no desire to defame Idaho, but if your reading comprehension skills are at all representative of the public school system where you live, you have already discredited the gem state. The U.S. forest service, the Idaho DNR, and any number of other observers, some of whom I have cited here — and I can cite a dozen others, but I doubt that would convince you — have identified irrigators in the Stanley basis as having a detrimental effect on sockeye salmon. In response, you make ridiculous claims that there aren’t any irrigators there, then concede that maybe there are one or two, but the just use the water to water horses and cattle. I used to personally drive on the highway past the Busterback ranch at least twice every summer. I have personally seen the irrigation pipe on the meadows.

    You then make the claim that hatchery fish are indistinguishable from wild fish. This claim is ridiculous on its face, and I invite you to cite any fish biologist from anywhere in the world who would back up that assertion.

    I admire your love for Idaho — it is a wonderful place in many ways — but the only one putting forward silly falsehoods here is you, and you’re making an ass of yourself in the process. Please take a deep breath and give it a break.

  52. Steve May 20, 2011 at 7:20 pm


    I think you are just embarrassed that I caught you misleading your audience. Every single document you’ve cited was from years ago. None show the dramatic incident you began with concerning the evil hay farmer who delivered the final blow to the Sockeye. Nor, does a single one showing that, currently, local water diversion is even a factor in the survival of the species.

    As the Busterback Ranch, that was resolved about 20 years ago. Here is a link to the National Fisheries Science Center’s report in 1999 confirming that fact:

    Today, I checked in with one of the key fish biologists. He reaffirmed my key points that in the Stanley Basin locals are not a significant contributor to degradation of the salmon habitat, that the issues that were in play were resolved a 15-20 years ago. He reaffirmed that the key remaining diversions that were an issue a decade ago (identified in the NFSC report) have been resolved since. He further indicated that signs were another strong run in 2011, perhaps matching 2010’s run which was the best since 1956.

    It may be fun to insult my education (a doctorate), my literacy (a minor in English with considerable Latin studies), and my stance. But, I have been nothing but accurate since the beginning.

    The Sockeye salmon are a serious issue. But, blaming local water diversion for their current trials was — and is — simply wrong.

  53. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    For the fourth time now, I did not claim that a single farmer singlehandedly destroyed the sockeye run.

    For the fourth time, I did not claim that it happened recently.

    The current trials of the sockeye are a result of decades of mismanagement of water resources. That is beyond dispute, even by you. That was the point of the post. Can we at least agree on this?

  54. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    I have been nothing but accurate since the beginning


    So your key fish biologist helped you see the light and admit that there actually were diversions, the people didn’t just use the water to water sheep, and that, in spite of your aerial photos, people actually did irrigate in the Stanley basin. That’s three falsehoods in a row, and we haven’t begun to address your claims re: hatchery v. wild.

  55. Steve May 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Mark —

    This is your original quote: “A landowner who had legal water rights had diverted the entire stream onto his field of grass hay. The landowner got another $500 worth of low quality hay, and in exchange, the wild Idaho sockeye is gone, and it’s gone for good.”

    That was immediately following your sentence that the Sockeye were reduced to three returning in 2003. Thus, my linkage of the two.

    I think my reading is fair. You can disagree.

    As to the biologist, you completely twisted what I posted.

    First, there were historic diversions. That was the basis of your earlier citations. But, any that impacted the fish were purchased beginning in the 1960s. They were not an issue in 2003 which was the predicate, in your posting, to the infamous farmer example.

    Second, I have no idea what you are referring to about sheep. As I’ve indicated, this is not an area that has ever been used for farming. Nor could it ever be.

    That came from a review of the Idaho water rights in the region, the fact that the climate precludes growing (how do you grow ANYTHING with a season of less than a month?), and the simple fact that the aerial views show no significant agriculture except one small spot south of Stanley. This has never been a production agriculture region.

    As to the hatchery versus wild issue, I know it is easy to have a preference of one over the other. I think we both favor wild fish. But, you used a quote implying it was some kind of torture. That is what I thought was so bizarre. But, fundamentally, the hatchery program provides the opportunity to restore the run. In contrast to extinction, that is the preferable alternative.

    Our key point of difference is that you continue to insist that the key problem is in Stanley. I disagree. I think the problem is for the fish successfully getting through Columbia/Snake dams to the area. Let’s let it go at that.

    Mark, we really need to dial this down. It really is out-of-hand. I’m going to take a break for awhile. I would recommend you do the same. A policy dispute is simply not worth this level of vitriol (And, I acknowledge some blame in it getting this far).

  56. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    you completely twisted what I posted.

    Welcome to the club.

    I have agreed in two separate comments now that the biggest obstacles are the dams downriver, so I don’t understand why you continue to call that a key difference.

  57. Steve May 20, 2011 at 8:35 pm


    That was a fair criticism.

    I should have said that you believe that actions in the Stanley basin are a significant drag on the Sockeye. I do not.

    Ugh. I promised I wouldn’t do more of this tonight . .

  58. Mark Brown May 20, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    No, that would still be inaccurate. I do not believe that actions in the Stanley basin are a significant drag on the sockeye. I’ve agreed with you on this point, that the agricultural properties have now been converted mostly to recreational use and the irrigation diversions have been removed.

    I believe that in past decades, actions in the Stanley basin contributed to the collapse of the sockeye population, cf. my comment way upthread “In past decades…”.

  59. mfranti May 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Steve: That was a fair retort. I feel chastened.

    No need to. I said it lightheartedly. 🙂

  60. Jettboy May 21, 2011 at 8:23 am

    The good news is that no matter what the environmentalists try to do, humans will remain free and prosper, or not, however they choose. They may agitate for improvements and there is nothing wrong with some that have taken place, but they are fighting at windmills. Humans have from the existence of the first stone tools reformed their environment at the cost of the natural ecosystems. To pretend that its a recent thing since the Industrial Age narrows the chances for real progress in protecting nature. That means a shift into domesticating rather than preserving wild nature (thus the spawning farms). So be it. If nature didn’t want to “kill itself,” as environmentalists view the situation, then humans wouldn’t have been invented.

    I call it good news because their denial of looking at “protecting” the environment from an anthropomorphic viewpoint will ensure their elitist failures. They will end up sounding like bullies and tyrants with their constant devaluing of human activities, and hypocrites for living like everyone else while proclaiming that everyone else should live differently. The “damage” has been done since the beginning. I believe the future of environmentalism rests on learning how to help humans and wildlife co-exist rather than seek a return to a pristine environmentalist Garden of Eden that never existed even when humans were not in the picture.

  61. Brad May 21, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Wow, jettboy, how enlightening. You just did a super job demonstrating how grown up and sophisticated your understanding of the scientific concerns driving environmental activism is. I mean, you’re totally not challenging a ridiculous straw man here that makes you appear morally superior. In fact, I’d say that what you’re arguing against is EXACTLY what environmentalists think and feel, which I’m sure you’ll be glad (though not surprised) to know DOES make you morally and intellectually superior. Thank you for bringing so much clarity to this particular conversation. I salute you, sir.

  62. Brad May 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I’ll be more blunt. I’m happy to set aside other topics for the moment, but if your comment here is indicative of your grasp of the issues, then when it comes to the nature and scope of human impact on the ecosystems in which we are embedded, how that impact has changed from the early neolithic to the industrialized, globalized present, and to the nature of the moral and scientific concerns which underlie the overwhelming majority of environmental protectionism (certainly as expressed on this blog), you have proven yourself to be an unqualified idiot.

  63. mfranti May 21, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    “If nature didn’t want to “kill itself,” as environmentalists view the situation, then humans wouldn’t have been invented.”

    I’m sorry, I’m not following you. Can you clarify what you mean?

    Jettboy, did you come here to learn something or to pick a fight? Cos I can go toe to toe with you in the ring if you’d like. I can also answer any legit questions you may have.

    I recommend you start here to get a feel for what we’re tying to do.

    If you disagree, we can discuss it.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  64. SteveP May 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Great Post Mark!

    I can only make a few contributions to the discussion.
    Hatchery fish are not like wild in almost any way. Wild stock brought into hatchery very quickly diverge very quickly from their wild cousins, in feeding behavior, mating behavior, and natural habits and instincts. Hatchery managers spend a great deal of time trying to fix this.

    There have been eight wolf fatalities in North America since the 1600s. Two of these by captive wolves. To put that in perspective there have been eleven dog fatalities so far in the USA in 2011. The best defense of returning wolves to UT was written by Clark Monson, (Pres. Monson’s son), “Monson, C. 2006. A House Divided: Utah and the Return of the Wolf in Handley, Ball and Peck, eds. Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment.

  65. Steve May 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

    The Idaho Statesman a few days ago released the following numbers on Idaho salmon runs, comparing the numbers crossing the last dam on the Snake River in 1975 to 2010:

    • Chinook salmon: 28,460 in 1975; 164,796 in 2010.

    • Steelhead: 27,786 in 1975; 206,885 in 2010.

    • Sockeye salmon: 209 in 1975; 2,201 in 2010.

  66. Steve May 22, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Steve P —

    Hatchery fish — It is true that hatchery raised fish have different behavioral characteristics than wild fish. But, from a genetic standpoint, the fish are identical (assuming wild fish are the stock). Thus, hatcheries are a tool for preserving runs. Of course, long term, all hope that wild runs predominate.

    Wolves — The issue really isn’t how many humans have been killed by wolves. It is that they are dangerous and intrusive. The smaller, rural forest towns deal with the raids on pets and livestock. I just heard the story of a lady who watched her two dogs butchered in her front yard by wolves while she was having breakfast. The point being that is a realistic discussion to consider limiting their number when they’ve reached the point of sustainability (or, in Idaho’s case, far beyond that).

  67. SteveP May 22, 2011 at 10:49 am

    “From a genetic standpoint, the fish are identical.”

    No they are not. This is a constant concern in fishery management. And the claim is absurd. The only identical piece is mitochondrial DNA which is not behind the morphological differences we see.

    Here is the most current information I have:

    People who want nature tame and pushed back to where it can’t hurt us have always maintained that any wolves are too many.

    In other news the number pet dogs attacking neighbor dogs continues to flood our urban areas:,0,6988777.story

    When will Steve Evens show up for troll control?

  68. Mike May 26, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Steve (not SteveP),

    Excellent points. I think the numbers, and facts based on reality and not emotion, speak for themselves.

    I grew up in rural Nevada (relatives live in Idaho) and I just want to point out that human safety is absolutely a legitimate concern, and very often overlooked, when discussing issues of preservation of dangerous species such as wolves, or in my case growing up, badgers. I recognize the original post was about salmon, which aren’t known for vicious attacks on humans, but I think you made a great point that was buried in the barrage of attacks you received.

  69. Brad May 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Mike, it’s not a good point if it presumes, quite incorrectly, that wolves are dangerous to humans. Maybe you should try a dose of your own advice re numbers and facts versus emotions…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: