Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Finding Love in a Ditch....

There’s a commonly held belief that floats around our great badger state that enviros and farmers are always at loggerheads and that’s just the way it is. Never the tilled soil and the hugged tree should meet, so to speak. Too often, this is a damned accurate assumption….especially amongst the more commercially focused members of the agribusiness community and even the more rigid members of the tree-hugging society. “Oh lack-a-day,” some will say, “it’s just the way of things…best to accept it and prepare for scuffling.”

This last Saturday, a group of folks said “Pish!” to that idea and gathered at Justin (on the right) and Lynn Isherwood’s farm near Plover for the River Alliance’s second annual BBQ on the Banks. It’s important to note that the Isherwoods are not your 15-acre and a quaint barn type of gentleman (or gentlewoman) farmer…they’re an honest to goodness commercial operation farming several hundred acres of potatoes and canning vegetables in the unique central sands region of the state. And they’re true stewards of the land….and the water. They understand the dangers of turning a blind eye to the level of water usage needed to grow a potato in Wisconsin’s central region, and work hard to find a balance between their usage and the groundwater needs of the area.

And don’t worry reader…there’s a river connection too. As with most of the farmland in that area, the Isherwoods’ fields are bordered by “laterals,” otherwise known as drainage ditches. What many folks don't know is that these ditches once were fine cold water streams teeming with trout. Seems that about 100 years ago, town planners thought the drainage capabilities of these streams would be greatly enhanced by dredging and straightening them. Maybe, maybe not. But nowadays there are those who envision a return of these trout havens to their natural, meandering courses. J. Isherwood is one of those, and river rats who attended BBQ on the Banks on July 17 got to see his efforts to do just that.

As with most River Alliance events, this outing mixed lessons with lively fun, treating the attendees to Justin and Lynn’s “earthy” wisdom and sound farming techniques while sampling some of the area’s nicest products. Offerings included beer from Central Waters Brewing, salads from Adventure 212 Bistro and CafĂ© 27 (who threw in some very fine croissants too), as well as the Isherwoods’ version of the famous (infamous?) Moore Barn pulled pork sandwich (it’s difficult to dislike a sandwich with its own mythology…even if there is suspicion that said mythology was cooked up by Justin himself). The highlight of the feast, though, was some of our hosts’ red potatoes, fresh from the ground. Lynn suggested a bit of butter, salt and pepper for the melt in your mouth tubers, but to be truthful, those windows needed no curtains.

A good time was had by all, hay wagons were boarded, corn silk was tasted and perhaps some current mythology was dented. As they (almost) say in the song…"The River Rat and the Farmer should be friends…”

With more folks like Justin and Lynn, that might just happen.

Want to see more pics from the event? Head to . All photos by Lia Vellardita.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rat Seeks Carp

You’d think the most exotic and controversial animal trap in the entire country would be more exciting to look at. It wasn’t. As a connoisseur of traps, this Rat was most curious about an electric fish trap. And from this Rat’s perspective, this fish (trap) story is a dandy tale -- about human beings, the illusions you harbor about controlling nature, and the immutable law of unintended consequences.

The aforementioned animal trap is actually not a trap but an electric fish barrier, wired to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It is the last line of defense keeping the marauding Asian carp from wreaking havoc in Lake Michigan, and no doubt beyond. (But as a fellow low-life, bottom-feeding critter, Rat does harbor some sympathy for the much disparaged Asian carp.)

The site of the electric fish barrier, on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

You’ll see pictured here some interested souls getting a tour of this fish barrier, found near Lockport, Illinois and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Essentially the barrier is a bunch of thick wires in the water just above the bottom of the canal that emit electric waves that repel the fish. Even though you weren’t supposed to actually see fish fleeing , very few of the people on this tour shared the Corps’ sanguine view of the effectiveness of this device.

The weird plumbing Chicago area rivers can be seen at this site (called Bubbly Creek at one time because of the decaying refuse gassing off in the stream, located about a mile from the Loop).

So far, only one Asian carp has found upstream from the barrier that we know about, but plenty of Asian carp DNA has been detected. Experts believe if the carp gets past the barriers, they have a free shot to Lake Michigan, and eventually Wisconsin’s rivers. (Asian carp can get to Wisconsin via the Mississippi River too, of course.)

Equally fascinating on this tour was getting to see firsthand the elaborate and massive plumbing job that is the river and surface waterway system for Chicago. The whole thing has been engineered to look nothing like it looked before settlement, and its dual purpose is to move cargo and send polluted water down to the Mississippi River (150 miles away) instead of to Lake Michigan (which is right there). Trying to manipulate this system to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, as some are proposing, will be enormous engineering, hydrologic and – especially – political undertaking.

Time is totally on the carp’s side on this one.

Festivities, Fireworks and Flying Fish

No matter how many times I see it, it still sends chills up my spine. Check out this stunning video taken last week of salmon running Dagger Falls, on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho, 700 miles from the sea.:

Save Our Wild Salmon are asking people to take action and let the Obama Administration know that protecting these incredible animals and this awesome journey is something we all care about. Take a minute to send a letter to the Administration here (actually, it takes less than a minute).

Then go be awestruck by this beautiful country.

Now THAT's patriotic!

posted by the River Rat