Summit County: A dirty little secret

Opinion: Let’s show more respect to the land that gives so much

It’s unbelievable to me that people can treat a place like this with so little respect.
A red-shafted flicker died after entangling itself in a stray piece of fishing line.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Many mornings in the past couple of years I’ve headed down to my favorite spot along the shore of Dillon Reservoir early in the morning, right after dropping my son off at school. It’s not far — less than a mile from our house in Frisco — the dogs can run safely and the views are great. I always come back with a good photo or three and I’ve shared many of them with Summit Voice readers. Click here to see the photos from Friday morning.

The thing that I haven’t shared in photos or words about this place is really a dirty little secret. That stretch of shoreline that produces so many good photos is essentially an open-air dump. In the past couple of months, I’ve hauled away several over-sized bags of garbage, including countless fast food wrappers and bags, old clothes, discarded cans and bottles, makeshift camping gear and, sadly, probably a few hundred feet of fishing line, often with hooks, lures and lead weights still attached.

I usually don’t mess with the human waste that’s piled up in the aspen groves and pine stands, but I do pick up after our dogs.

I headed down there again Friday morning, eager to take pictures of the mists hanging over the water. After a few minutes of shooting pictures, I noticed that one of the dogs was trying to chew on a dead bird. I shooed him away and saw that the bird had a tangle of fishing line wrapped around its wing. The other end of the line was snagged on a log.

It didn’t look like the red-shafted flickr had swallowed the hook or anything like that. That wouldn’t be a normal source of food for a member of the woodpecker family, anyway. They eat bugs like mountain pine beetles and we need all the allies we can find in that battle. It looked like the poor bird simply got snagged and then perhaps succumbed to the cold weather at ground level when it couldn’t find shelter in a think clump of branches.

I realize that this happens all the time. Birds fly into windmills and they get hit by cars and sucked into jet engine intakes, but it’s still frustrating when it’s so avoidable, and especially after having picked up so much discarded fishing line along that shoreline.

The image of the tangled bird stayed with me all day, especially while doing some particularly mindless work in the afternoon, when I started to think about the bigger picture of that littered beach.

I realized first and foremost that this is a personal behavior issue. Each of us is fully responsible for our own actions, and there’s simply no excuse for leaving your trash, or taking a dump in the woods within 20 feet of Denver’s water supply.

But there are some other factors at play. I’ve talked to several people during the last couple of years who said they used to fish over at the Heaton Bay day use area, less than a mile away. But several years ago, the U.S. Forest Service gave the concessionaire who operates Heaton Bay campground the authority to charge day use fees, with the reasoning that it would give the company, Thousand Trails, an incentive to maintain the facilities at the day-use area.

Based on casual but consistent observations of the general area, it seems clear that, since the day-use fees were imposed, the adjacent beaches, where there is no charge, have become busier. Of course, there are no sanitary facilities at the free beaches.

There’s a chance that the free beaches are simply busier because of more visitors to the county in general, but it seems more likely to me that the economy could be a factor. Everybody’s trying to save a few bucks wherever they can these days, and not many people are willing to spend $5 or $10 just to go fishing for a few hours.

I can’t help but wonder whether this type of impact was discussed, evaluated or disclosed when the Forest Service decided to start letting their private concessionaires charge for day-use. I understand that sanitation can be an issue even in areas that are managed directly by the Forest Service, as was the case at Green Mountain Reservoir a few years ago, but I guess I’m still just bothered by the fact that the agency was so cavalier about taking an area that was a popular lunch picnicking spot for locals and trying to turn it into a revenue center.

I’m not blaming the Forest Service for the litter at the little Frisco beaches. As I said before, we’re all responsible for our actions, and the situation won’t change until the casual angling community starts to police itself.

But there’s definitely a chance that the unintended consequences of charging for day use contribute to resource pressure on adjacent lands, and that should be part of the calculations as the Forest Service, and other land managers, try to figure how they will manage recreation and other land uses during tough budget times.

In the meantime, let’s help them out and clean up after ourselves.

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2 thoughts on “Summit County: A dirty little secret

  1. You are correct in saying tht we should show more respect for our land. There is more polllution to follow- if it hasn’t t his beautiful area yet! Please read the folowing:

    Clearing the PR Pollution That Clouds Climate Science

    Select Language​▼Select Language​▼
    Thu, 2014-07-24 09:48SHARON KELLY

    After Rancher’s Death, Calls for Fracking Health Study Grow Stronger

    Last month, Terry Greenwood, a Pennsylvania farmer whose water had been contaminated by fracking waste, died of cancer. He was 66 and the cause of death was a rare form of brain cancer.

    His death drew attention from around the globe in part because Mr. Greenwood was among the first farmers from his state to speak out against the gas industry during the early years of the state’s shale gas rush.

    Mr. Greenwood went up against a company called Dominion Energy, which had drilled and fracked a shallow well on his small cattle ranch property under a lease signed by a prior owner in 1921.

    In January, 2008, Mr. Greenwood had reported to state officials that his water supplies had turned brown and the water tasted salty. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection subsequently found that the company, whose gas well was drilled 400 feet from the Greenwoods’ water well in 2007, had impacted the Greenwoods’ water. State officials ordered Dominion to temporarily supply the family with drinking water.

    Mr. Greenwood’s death was mourned by environmentalists around the world. In London, for example, attendees at a fracking education event recorded video messages for the Greenwood family and raised over $500 for Terry’s survivors.

    “Terry Greenwood was one of the most compelling people you could ever listen to,” wrote filmmaker Josh Fox. “There was just something about the way he spoke, there was a decency and a positivity that shone through every word no matter how distressing or disturbing the subject matter was.”

    But the story of Mr. Greenwood’s fight against the drilling industry and lax oversight by state regulators does not stop there.

    In the weeks since his death, there has been a steady stream of further revelations about ineptitude by state environmental and health officials in protecting the public from the type of threats that may have killed Mr. Greenwood. These revelations are both a reminder of the importance of Mr. Greenwood’s fight and a reiteration of how little has changed.

    Last week, Dr. Eli Avila, formerly Pennsylvania’s health secretary, made headlines when he told the Associated Press that the state had neglected health impact studies.

    “The lack of any action speaks volumes,” Dr. Avila, now Orange County, New York’s public health commissioner, told the AP. His perspective was shared by other health experts. “Pennsylvania is ‘simply not doing’ serious studies into possible health impacts of drilling, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, who has five decades of public health experience at hospitals and universities in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania” said, the AP reported.

    The lack of oversight and transparency has been endemic to Pennsylvania and its handling of fracking.

    In 2011, Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended that the state begin tracking health effects, through a registry that would monitor the health of people living within a mile of natural gas drilling or production sites, like well pads and compressor stations. The Commission called for “the timely and thorough investigation of and response to concerns and complaints raised by citizens, health care providers or public officials.”

    But funding for the initiative — including $2 million originally included in the state’s key drilling law, Act 13 — never materialized.

    Meanwhile, requests for information about health risks from state officials often seem to hit a brick wall. In response, local organizers have resorted to published lists of hundreds of state residents who say that they’ve been harmed by the drilling rush.

    This official silence comes against a larger backdrop of stonewalling. Retired state health officials recently alleged that the Department of Public Health barred them returning phone calls from residents with potentially fracking-related concerns and had circulated a list of buzzwords that might indicate a call was related to the shale drilling frenzy.

    “We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” Tammi Stuck, who worked as a Fayette County community health nurse for nearly four decades, told StateImpact.

    The state initially denied that a list of buzzwords existed. But after StateImpact obtained copies of the buzzword list, the agency confirmed that the documents were authentic, changing its story to say that their goal was not to suppress complaints but to ensure “that we are speaking with one voice.” Although state officials are supposed to coordinate between agencies to handle residents’ concerns, locals described a frustrating process in which complaints were bounced from agency to agency.

    Farmers have for several years said that, for all that is not known about fracking, one thing is certain: livestock are being affected. Mr. Greenwood knew this peril first hand.

    “They was drilling and all the water was running into the field and the cattle was up there right in their pasture drinking the water,” Terry Greenwood told Josh Fox in footage from roughly 2009 that the filmmaker released as part of a video memorial. “And I called DEP and I says ‘they [the cows] shouldn’t be drinking that water,’ I said, ‘what’s in that water?’ Cause I didn’t know nothing about all this at first, and they said ‘there’s nothing wrong with it.’ My cows started having calves, there was 18 cows. Calves was starting to die. You know, 18 cows that were having calves, I lost 10 of them.”

    “So what did DEP say?” Mr. Fox asked, referring to the state Department of Environmental Protection. “’That’s a farmer’s luck,’” Mr. Greenwood replied.

    The DEP later attributed the deaths to e coli bacteria in the pond, but Mr. Greenwood remained skeptical that bacteria was the true cause of the deaths. “”I said, ‘Them cows have been drinking out of that pond for 18 years and I never had this problem before,’” Mr. Greenwood told a local newspaper in 2010.

    And the following year, things got worse. In 2011, not a single one of the Greenwoods’ thirteen remaining cows gave birth to a live calf, Mr. Greenwood later said.

    The symptoms Mr. Greenwood reported in his cows seem generally consistent with incidents tied to fracking wastewater across the country. Animals like cows and deer are particularly drawn towards drinking the toxic wastewater that flows back from natural gas wells after fracking because of the water’s salty taste.

    “Cattle that have been exposed to wastewater (flowback and/or produced water) or affected well or pond water may have trouble breeding,” veterinarian Michelle Bamberger and Cornell Professor Robert Oswalt wrote in a 2012 peer-reviewed paper. “Of the seven cattle farms studied in the most detail, 50 percent of the herd, on average, was affected by death and failure of survivors to breed.”

    Scientists have called for greater attention to the effects on animals from drilling and fracking, saying that animal health could serve as warnings for effects on human health.

    “As part of an effort to obtain public health data, we believe that particular attention must be paid to companion animals, livestock, and wildlife, as they may serve as sentinels for human exposures, with shorter lifetimes and more opportunity for data collection from necropsies,” Drs. Bamberger and Oswald wrote.

    No one can say for sure whether fracking chemicals killed Mr. Greenwood or his animals. But advocates say that they have a right to know and they say one of their biggest frustrations is the state’s silence on the matter.

    But the lack of public health information has advocates calling for a full investigation into the state’s investigatory failures.

    “The legitimate questions of Pennsylvania citizens concerning their health or that of family members as a result of natural gas drilling activity cannot be discounted or dismissed outright,” a statement signed by five of the state’s leading environmental groups said last week. “The fact that the [D]epartment [of Environmental Protection] originally denied the existence of a “buzzwords” list, and the fact that Gov. Corbett has refused to weigh in with a forceful response, leaves us no choice but to call for a full investigation.”

    Friends said Mr. Greenwood was one of the first people to speak out against the shale gas drilling rush in Pennsylvania and had made the phrase “water is more important than gas” his personal motto following his experiences with the shale gas industry.

    “We had two springs, a well for drinking, and a pond,” Mr. Greenwood explained to film-maker Josh Fox in a video filmed roughly five years ago that Mr. Fox released as a memorial in June.

    “The pond’s no good, the well ain’t fit to drink, original well’s gone and the spring for the cattle is gone. There’s a little spring for the house and that’s all that’s left on this property.”

    “So I have a farm, and it’s useless,” he added. “When they take this water buffalo, or whatever happens to this water buffalo, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”

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