Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Scared Sheet-less and Thermally Damned

By Bob Ferris

Carlene and I biking in the rain with a friend.
My wife and I bike.  It is really our preferred method of transport.  That said, we are both chemically sensitized and few things can spoil our rides through neighborhoods faster than the scent of dryer sheets or other fragranced laundry additives blasted across the landscape so carelessly by some.

This experience and sensitivity makes us very sympathetic to salmon and trout and their challenges related to thermal dams—those stretches of water too warm for salmonids to live in or cross—and other issues of chemical pollution.  When we pedal into perfumed dryer exhaust our heads hurt, our throats ache, our eyes water and there is a general sense of panic and disorientation.  I do not know exactly what happens to cold water fish when they hit these warm spots or irritating chemicals, but I suspect there are similar or related impacts as their lateral lines and nostrils sense the temperatures and waterborne chemicals they encounter.  It would make sense that fish have engrained mechanisms to cause them to avoid—where possible—these kind of harmful phenomena.

What makes dryer sheets and thermal dams so nearly analogous is that unless you are chemically sensitive or a cold water fish these areas look just like normal roads or streams to you.  The analogy breaks down in one regard: When my wife and I encounter dryer exhaust laced with chemicals we can make a U-turn and find another road with cleaner air that leads us to our destination, salmon and trout simply do not have that option.

The above water-is-water confusion also masks the sense of urgency for many in regards to salmon
Carlene ridding the Nooksack of trash another "good neighbor" action 
for salmon and steelhead.  Photo by Paul Anderson.

and steelhead.  It is a little like the tired joke about the impossibility of being overdrawn at the bank because there are still checks in the checkbook.   Our shrinking snow packs in the Pacific Northwest are really the “paychecks” that keeps the system going and right now they are not sufficient to avoid a set of riverine waterscapes littered with thermal dams or worse—trickles, mud or dust.  And even where waters are on the edge of adequate the trout and salmon are thermally stressed enough that considering proposed actions such as suction dredging—specious under the most robust conditions—have to be taken off the table immediately.

Even in Vermont in the dead of winter there are places to hang 
clothes to have energy and provide humidity.
The clothes dryer nexus is also a good catalyst for drawing folks together for discussions of solution pathways.  I say this because dryers are appliances of conveyance rather than critical necessity.  (I can hear a collective gasp here.) I grew up during a time when not all households had dryers.  This area and others need to be brought within the negotiating ground of behavioral modifications one can undertake to make the climate prognosis for these fish as well as ourselves more sanguine.  Certainly stopping the use of dryer sheets is a start, but also looking at ways to use your dryer less and less.

My wife and I come into our bike riding out of enjoyment and now find we miss it when we don’t.  We  gravitated to dryer avoidance out of health-driven necessity and climatic obligation that are leading to satisfaction as well as excitement over finding other ways such as rain barrels where we can be better neighbors to salmon and steelhead.  We would encourage others to do the same.  It is worth the effort.

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