Monday, December 7, 2015

A Beautiful River and an Awful Mess

One of the prettiest bluffs along the river, marred by the tattered pieces of white plastic.

Pomme de Terre is a French name for the river meaning, "Apple of the Earth".  
                 What would the French name be for “River of White Trash”?

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         As I looked around me, I couldn’t help but think, “How could one human being be this inconsiderate, this uncaring… this worthless!”

         As it could be, the Pomme de Terre River is a beautiful little stream, way up above the Lake it forms.  There are high bluffs, caves, a wide variety of wildlife, and migrating waterfowl.   If you’ve never fish it, you would be surprised how good the fishing is, even though otters have taken their toll upstream.

         Each year, at a certain time of the spring, a few of us who know where to find them and how to catch them, enjoy some of the best smallmouth fishing you can imagine on this little river.  The size and number of smallmouth to be caught, if you know how to find them, is remarkable.

         But let me describe for you what the stream looks like today, due to the actions of just one man.  At every point, no matter where you are in a ten mile section, you can look around you and see tattered white plastic, in the water, on the banks, and up in the branches of trees.  You see them the size of bed sheets, you see them the size of handkerchiefs and all sizes in between.  There aren’t ten or twelve of these to be seen wherever you are, there are perhaps a hundred.  All down the river, they mar it and destroy its natural beauty… thousands of huge chunks and small fragments of white plastic.

         “He doesn’t like floaters or fishermen,” the caller told me.  “And he sees the river as little more than his dump.”  He was talking about a rancher along the river upstream from Highway 32, between Buffalo and Bolivar, who wraps his round bales of hay in white plastic.  As he uses them, he takes the plastic to the river.  Oh no, he doesn’t throw them in the river, he piles them on the bank where he knows full well the rises caused by routine rainfall will carry them away! And on occasion, he adds bags of trash.

         As angry as this makes me at this slob, I can’t help but wonder what kind of political power he possesses, because the caller says he has contacted the sheriffs department and local conservation agents who feel the whole thing is not within their jurisdiction.  They don’t float the river, they don’t see it and they have bigger fish to fry.

         So while this rancher will do this until he dies, we don’t have to see the river destroyed with his white plastic.  Twenty-five or so canoes and boats can make a big dent in this ugliness by floating down the river and cleaning it up as best we can.  We can name this man, show the amount of plastic involved and ask him if he will let us pick it up every month and destroy it so that it won’t wind up in the river.  In spite of the fact that he wants to willingly and single-handedly destroy this stream, maybe he will agree to stop, if we can organize that kind of cleanup and put some pressure on him.

         Sometime this winter after the first of the year, when we have a warm weekend, and the Pomme de Terre is at the right stage, I want to try to make it look like a river again instead of a private dump.  I need your help.  You can bring your own canoe, or if you don’t have one, I might be able to loan you one of mine.

         We’ll have to do this on a spur of the moment, when conditions are right.  Just tell me if you want to join us, and I will keep your phone number and call you a few days ahead of the Saturday we choose.  I am going to notify two groups, the Missouri Paddlers Club and the group which calls itself the Smallmouth Alliance and ask them to help. Or maybe we can get some of the MDC organized ‘stream teams’ to go along.  And we can make this an enjoyable event by having a gravel bar fish-fry along the way using the opportunity to teach some people about the unique, special nature of an Ozark stream.

         As an added bonus, long-time float fishing guide Dennis Whiteside will join us, and teach folks who want to learn how to effectively paddle a canoe from one side, so that they don’t have to switch from one side to another constantly in a zig-zag course down the river.

         I am waiting from a call from MDC enforcement chief Larry Yamnitz, to find out why this big time polluter can’t be fined for what he is doing, but what I would really like to do as well is get some conservation agents to go along with us, so some of us can talk to them about the stream and how to make it better, perhaps how they can help us stop the illegal fishing we see happening every year.

         I am also going to invite rancher Jim Hacker to go along too.  Jim lives along the Pomme not far from me, and he is a bright spot in keeping it clean and natural.  Jim has set aside a fenced buffer strip on his land along the river, planted in trees and natural vegetation to keep the stream from eroding his land.  His cattle are fenced well away from the water and watered with drilled wells.  Much of what he has done has been paid for by a program through the Department of Agriculture reimbursing river landowners for the cost of conservation efforts.  I’d love to have Jim Hacker have the opportunity to show what can be done by someone who cares.

         The rancher who has one-handedly degraded this little river will never change, the caller I talked to assures me of that.  I thought of what might happen to me if I were caught throwing one small plastic shopping bag off that bridge there on Highway 32.  What kind of fine would I pay?  Why is there no consequence for a rancher who puts thousands of pieces of white plastic into the river intentionally?

         Again, I only need your name and phone number.  I can’t clean this up by myself, some of you readers out there have to help me.  In fact no matter what we do, we can’t get all of that plastic.  But we can tackle this problem and maybe we can end it.

         This weekend, the first boys will come to our Brush Creek Boys Project with counselors from a Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo.  There may be up to 15 or 20 of them, boys without fathers who have never been out of the city.  I am absolutely elated to see this finally come to fruition.  There won’t be any big newspapers or television stations covering this, but I would like to invite any of you who are curious as to what we are doing to come and join us on Saturday morning. 
         Churches interested in using these fifty acres of natural Ozarks, with cabins where under privileged children can stay for a day or several days, absolutely free, need to come and see it.  Call me to get details… 417 777 5227.  I’ll take lots of photos and we will do a story in the winter issue of my magazine, the Lightnin’ Ridge Outdoor Journal, about this first-time event.


common tater said...

This is really a bizarro story...I certainly hope you can stop this mess, but as a farmer/rancher.... I have personally known thousands of farmers over the decades, but I don't think I have ever known a single one who wants to intentionally pollute his land or anyone else's. In fact, the vast majority of the ones I know care much more for their land and natural resources than any of the so called nature lovers who come to hunt or float. Something doesn't add up. As usual, Larry sees a conspiracy, with someone being 'powerful', but there is no way someone could not get in trouble for really intentionally littering to such a degree. Larry also makes the claim that the farmer "wants to willingly destroy the stream"....did he actually TELL Larry this....or did this unnamed caller hear the man actually say he "wants" to do this? This seems like an unlikely claim....I have never met anyone so evil that they "want" to intentionally destroy a river! Larry mentions that the other farmer is wonderful because he has spent money fencing out cattle and drilling wells, etc. He maybe ought to know that there are indeed farmers out here who consider it wrong to take tax money from other people to use on their is charity and why should Joe in Washington state be taxed to fence my cattle?...or why should I be taxed to drill a well for somebody in West Virginia? Is that government's job? Also... If you take the government's charity, be prepared to do anything they ask...with no complaints! Just my thoughts...thanks for considering. And I do wish you luck in getting this mess stopped, whatever all the facts are. Long time reader.

common tater said...

Also....I sure hope your very pretty bride wasn't fourteen years old, like she looks in that picture!! (just joshing!)

Anonymous said...

Call the department of natural resources. Solid waste and water pollution programs.

Southwest Regional Office
Cindy Davies, Director
2040 W. Woodland
Springfield, MO 65807-5912

area reader said...

I didn't think you really wanted comments.....