Things with Feathers: A fishy return and a victory for trees

Stories from the United Kingdom and my city this month.

A slithery return after 200 years

From The Guardian; photograph by Handout

Lamprey, a very ancient fish with an eel-like appearance, have returned to multiple places in the UK where, in some cases, conditions were too terrible for them for 200 years. Pollution and blockages across the rivers had kept them away, but with cleaner water, and the removal of dams and other barriers, they are coming back.

“Now that water quality has improved and some of these barriers have been removed we are seeing lampreys return to the upper reaches of rivers such as the Ouse, Trent, and Derwent, where they were absent as recently as 30 years ago.”

An Environment Agency spokeswoman added that the eel-like creatures are returning “to their old slithering grounds”.

. . .

Several objects, such as weirs which block the fish’s passage, have been removed by the Environment Agency in England and innovations have been introduced to help them get past other structures, such as at Buttercrambe Weir on the River Derwent in Yorkshire where special ‘lamprey tiles’ have been laid.

Some species of lamprey are parasitic on other fish as adults, but in their larval form, they live and feed in the muck in the bottom of rivers. In the region I live, they were an important food, along with salmon, for many of the indigenous peoples; in the UK, they also played a traditional role, which may again some day be able to incorporate UK-local fish:

It was traditional for Gloucester to send a Christmas lamprey pie to the English and later the British monarch until 1836 when the practice was discontinued, except for coronations and jubilees. In 2012 a pie was sent to the Queen to mark the Diamond Jubilee but numbers of UK lampreys were so low that they had to be imported from the Great Lakes of North America.

The sequoias in Eastmoreland

There’s a neighborhood a bit south of where I live where two lots were bought earlier this year by a developer, who planned to build a couple of large new homes. On one of those lots were three very tall sequoias that were apparently planted in the mid-1800s.

The city made some changes in code recently that made it easier for developers to cut down trees, including really big, healthy, old trees – and the developer planned to do just that.

The neighborhood was upset. They tried to work out a deal with the developer, to buy the property from him – he asked for $900,000, $250,000 more than he’d paid for the properties. The neighborhood tried to come up with it, or at least some of it, but things weren’t looking so great.

Last week, it looked like the trees were finally going to be taken down, but people showed up, and police to “control the crowd” if necessary, and news trucks showed up, and then things calmed down, and then started up again when the developer fenced off the whole lot . . . and then a guy climbed one of the trees, with supplies and support to stay a while (I swear this really happened, this was not an episode of “Portlandia”), and so of course lots of police, along with private security, showed up, and one of the co-creators of “South Park” helped out financially, and there was lots of news and etc. and then finally the mayor (who lives in Eastmoreland) got the developer and some neighborhood people together to work out a deal that would stick. Here’s a decent summary (I’ve been following it via various media for the last week or two including a busy FB page).

Found on the "Save the Portland Redwoods" Facebook group; (c) Rhianna Lakin
Found on the “Save the Portland Redwoods” Facebook group; (c) Rhianna Lakin

So the current plan as I understand it is the trees are safe, though the neighborhood is working to raise money to pay off loans people are taking out to save them; the trees’ lot will become a park, and a different developer is going to build something on the other lot.

I weighed whether or not to write about this here – it is, after all, only 3 trees, in one of Portland’s wealthier neighborhoods, and it felt self-indulgent to write about something so local to me – but then I reread this article by one of the neighbors of the trees, written earlier this summer, and was reminded of a few things (emphasis added):

A friend who runs a portable sawmill heard about our fundraising efforts and said, “Spending that much money on saving three trees sounds nuts to me.” He pointed out that giant sequoias aren’t even native to this area. “Think of how many acres of native oak forest that money could save.”

I had struggled with this myself. Imagine all the other things one could do with that kind of money? But I give money to any number of causes about which the same criticism could be leveled—Kickstarter campaigns for films, animal rescue, etc. It would be a pretty self-defeating world if we didn’t try to solve smaller problems just because bigger ones are more deserving of our attention.

Still, what kind of solution was this? Who were we to try to pay off this developer? A story on was littered with disparaging remarks about wealthy Eastmoreland residents throwing their money away. I could honestly see both sides. Why did these trees matter so much anyway? Their previous owners, who lived on the property for more than 60 years, didn’t seem to mind seeing them cut down, so who were we to complain?

But hold on, have you seen these frickin’ trees? Come take a look at them, please. Come over and tell me we’d all be better off if they were cut down to make room for a maximum-sized, Tudor-style house.

And it’s true: the “small” local victories are important, especially for the people most immediately affected by them, but I also find encouragement in them, as indications that people DO care, and care A LOT about their immediate environment, and the beings they share that space with, and I figure those folks are also probably involved in other, bigger-picture things, not just small, super-local actions that are easy for people to criticize (to say nothing of the local children who know and love these trees, who will grow up having seen a place saved).

(An interesting thing about the giant sequoias, and their not being native to Portland, is that in their native habitat, biologists are concerned they might not do well with climate change making things warmer and drier. Some conservationists have suggested that to save the species, it might be necessary to start intentionally planting them farther north than where they are in California, to places that will be more likely to provide them the moisture they need. So Portland might be a good place . . .)

Near the end of the article, the author writes:

In the middle of all this, Everett Custom Homes proudly announced it had received a “2015 Green Home Builder Award” from Earth Advantage Institute. At what point can we no longer greenwash away our footprints? What if those three giant sequoias represent a line in the sand in this rapidly transforming city?

The last question may be answered in part by the reaction of some people in city government:

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement and the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, said the city’s tree ordinance is broken and needs to be fixed.

On Monday, Fritz said she has asked city staff to propose an emergency fix to halt what she considers an urgent problem. The tree code adopted in January after years of deliberation made it easier to cut trees, rather than preserving them as city officials intended, she said.

During one of the weeks the protest over the sequoias was happening, another was happening elsewhere in town over three old Douglas-firs being cut/threatened with cutting by the same developer involved (I don’t know where things are with those trees).

So it appears that these two very local actions (and, I am certain, calls and letters to the city from people in other neighborhoods) helped draw attention to problems with the new code, which Commissioner Fritz says she would like to see a longer-term fix for, which will help other neighborhoods throughout the city, some of which have already seen big old trees cut this year due to the “broken” new code (some by the same developer).

“She was unstoppable. Not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.”
Beau Taplin

5 thoughts on “Things with Feathers: A fishy return and a victory for trees

  1. Hurrah for Petromyzontiformes!

    I remember catching little brook lampreys when I was much younger in a stream next to a friends house. Those were little 5-6 inch ones, never anything that humongous.


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