Editorial: So long, Eagle Co.’s ugly little fish
Vail CO, Colorado
By many accounts, the cleanup of the Eagle River in Minturn has been a great success. A stretch of river that once ran orange due to mine pollution has been revived, and may be ready to welcome back some fish species that had been virtually wiped out.
The state is writing stricter water quality standards for the section of river poisoned by zinc, copper and cadmium. At issue is how strict the standards will be and which fish will return once they are in place.
It seems likely the new standards will accommodate rainbow and cutthroat trout, which are sensitive to pollution but more tolerant than the sculpin, a funny-looking little fish unlikely to be the subject of anybody’s best fishing stories or the key ingredient in a chef’s great recipe.
Some involved in the discussions have said it may not be reasonable to insist the water in the most tainted parts of the river be clean enough for the poor little sculpin, which, unlike some of the trout, is a native.
While Mother Nature may intend to have the sculpin swimming up and down every stretch of the Eagle River, we may not be able to grant her wish because we’ve changed, perhaps irrevocably, the chemistry of her river. This is a concession we may have to make as a species even as we clean up old mines and confront the wider challenges of climate change.
We probably cannot insist that every sickened stream, melted glacier or ravaged rain forest be restored to its original state as we try to ensure the planet’s healthy enough to sustain our species.
Matt Zalaznick for the Editorial Board