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This appeal originally appeared in the current California Fly Fisher magazine.
Even after the rain stopped falling Wednesday, the pedestrian bridge pilings in Atwater Village cause a mean curl. Because the LA River has little-to-no permanent structure, expect your favorite fishing spot to be radically changed for your next visit. (Courtesy Robert Blankenship)
UPDATE: Jan. 8: San Diego banned Styrofoam, making it the largest California city to do so.
Imperial Beach joined two other San Diego County cities in banning polystyrene food and beverage containers, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Styrofoam isn’t quite the poster child of the no-plastic movement — that would be straws — but the stuff is everywhere, in clam-shell take-out food containers, disposable cups, disposable lids, even in packaging using the adorable moniker “peanuts.” (Also, check out this gripping video about making a living selling Styrofoam boxes. It’s off-topic, but incredible.)
In this fascinating read, I found out how San Pedro La Laguna in Guatemala banned both Styrofoam and single-use plastic straws to protect its most valuable natural resource, Lake Atitlan. Tourism was up 40 percent last year, as managers of the small city of 13,000 went house to house to convince people to give up their plastics.
We need more hopeful stories such as this one, especially after the 2,000-foot boom created by young Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat to clean up the parts of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch failed last month and is getting towed back to San Francisco for repairs. “60 Minutes” ran an interesting segment on the project and what Slat hopes to accomplish as we literally drown the world in our garbage. We need both legislation and technology to pull us back from the plastic-wrap brink.
Another hopeful story comes from Traverse City, Michigan. This summer, my son and I were fly fishing the fabulous Au Sable, a few hours north and inland. When we got to The Village, a collection of shops, we were dying for a cup of great brew. My son ordered it “to go,” and the barista handed him a ceramic cup. Bewildered, Will said he wanted the brew to go, to which the guy replied, “that’s OK, we only serve coffee in ceramic cups. Bring one back next time you’re in town.” The cups are all donated by customers. Let me ask you, how many cups do you have in your cupboard right now that you never use and could donate to a great cause? Starbucks, where are you in this debate?
Ever since I read the awesome “The Feather Thief” earlier in the year, I’ve been on an extinction reading kick. It’s depressing.
Kirk Wallace Johnson devotes a lot of pages to acquainting readers with biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, along with Charles Darwin. Of course, Darwin is the name we remember but the story of Wallace and the doomed Birds of Paradise in the 19th century makes for a page turner, so much so that I continued the through line with other authors.
First came Melanie Challenger’s “On Extinction: How We Became Estranged from Nature.” Challenger is a poet and skillfully takes the reader along a time line that leads from her grandmother’s favorite wild flower on England’s Berkshire Downs, the common dog-violet, to a global tour that takes her to extinction events in Antactica, First Nations, Canada and Manhattan. Much of the book chronicles the annihilation of the natural world. It’s depressing in a beautiful, lyrical way, full of the care for our language few except a poet possess.
Next, I read “The Sixth Extinction” by the equally lyrical Elizabeth Kolbert. But, whereas Challenger is a poet, Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, is a journalist. Another amazing work, this one takes the reader through geologic time, punctuated with scientists who are meticulously documenting this time dubbed “Anthropocene,” and you realize that we live an age of nearly unprecedented extinction. I always wondered what happened to the frogs in our own Frogtown. My friend Ban once recounted how there used to be so many frogs on the streets that in some seasons it was nearly impossible not to step on them. Now, they’re gone, and, thanks to Kolbert, I know why. It’s depressing.
Finally, I’m a third of the way through Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” It started out brighter than the other two, engaging the reader with such items as “the gossip theory” for why humans went from middling predators to the top of the food chain. But, once again, as the pages mounted, the message became equally dire. It’s a historical who done it, where the bad guys are us. Yup, depressing.
So, it was with great holiday pleasure that I paged through the print Los Angeles Times this morning, to find two memorable events: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is following former scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruit out the revolving Trump door, pursued by a cloud of more than a dozen ethics violations. Here’s a summary of what he did during his close to two years in office. Top of mind for me was his tone deaf response to millions of comments asking him not to recommend shrinking Bear’s Ears National Monument.
But the real good news (both Pruit’s as well as Zinke’s probable replacement are nickers’ deep in coal and gas industry ties) is the return of commercial and recreational fishing for rock fish off the Southern California coast. The feds just increased the catch rate on some rock fish populations by 100 percent or more because of the success of rebuilding those stocks. That translates to jobs, estimated at 640, revenue, estimated at $44 million and local red snapper back on dinner plates.
In 2010, after falling in love with the LA River, I got worked up about plastic bags and was mostly happy to start carrying my own to the grocery store. There was a howl of protest as the plastic consumer noose tightened, first with California cities creating a patchwork of regulation, then counties, and finally voters approved a statewide ban in 2016. Now, if you want a bag at the store, it will cost you 10 cents.
Back then, I wrote: As a fly fisherman, you know you’re sick and tired of seeing trash in the Glendale Narrows, especially after a storm. So it should be worth it to either take your friggin’ bags with you on grocery runs, or pony up the dime that grocery stores will be able to charge for green bags.
Next up, single-use plastic straws. Yesterday, the LA City Council voted 12-0 to move forward to ban them by 2021. Reversing the earlier governmental patchwork plastic bag trend, the city council action comes before a statewide ban goes into effect Jan. 1, one in which you’ll have to ask for that straw. In what could be a game changer, and will incur the wrath of the fast-food industry, the Los Angeles ban could include fast food outlets, which, incredibly, are currently exempted by the upcoming state law
Then there’s the microplastics issue, in which fish digest small amounts of plastic that then never leave their bodies, causing a host of problems, including organ damage and reproduction. And, if you eat fish, you may also be eating plastics.
As a fly fisher who has walked our river in hope of a better future, I know we can do better.