Umpqua Watersheds Blog


Fall 2017

Published September 7th, 2017 in Restoration

Stanley Petrowski

Restoring Vital Signs


As a young man newly 20 years of age and just home from the war in Vietnam, I hit bottom. It wasn’t a pleasant experience because it was full of terror and lifelessness. From that bleak place, a slow but steady emergence began – and a healing, though gradual, took place. My diet changed. Life practices changed. An intuitive conscience was revitalized. Sensitivity to the natural world and a wary eye toward all that was clambering around me for my attention soon developed.

Years of isolation in the far reaches of the wild and far corners of the world gradually made space for me to adapt to my forever altered world-torn psyche. I found a wife who could tolerate my proclivity to live high in the mountains and away from the bustling centers of our civilization. I tasted of – and began to live in the physical and spiritual realm of “restoration.”

Those years were filled with challenging and enriching experiences. As a newlywed, one of my original occupations consisted of working as an Emergency Medical Technician. Transporting the injured and sick was no easy accomplishment. It was altruistically rewarding.

Training as an EMT gave me a new and deeper appreciation for the maintenance and restoration of health of the human body. The responsibilities and focus of attention required of me as an EMT were often stretching. There were fundamental indicators of what was taking place in the injured or ill person in my care. I had to continually pay attention to what are known as the vital signs. Pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate, and blood pressure, all indicate the state of a patient’s essential body functions. Break the normal rhythm of these systemic activities and soon some form of shock will set in.

Restoration Ecology is a science that is based on gathering the best available data related to an ecosystem, analyzing the data and responding accordingly with remedial actions that are also based on sound science and safety. In many ways restoration and concern for ecosystem health has at its foundation the analytical techniques of medical emergency care. Just as the body’s vital signs show symptoms when they are disrupted, so the natural world around us starts revealing conditions of decline and pointing toward the problem. These signals that are expressed by nature can go a long way to reveal what to do to bring health back into the environment.

Hypovolemic Shock  One sure sign our bodies aren’t working correctly is a condition called hypovolemic shock. A simple description of it is that a person’s blood pressure drops or liquid levels fall to such an extent that their head spins and they faint. Many of us have experienced this. The initial symptoms include dizziness, fainting or skin pallor. It is a critical condition and can lead to a fast heart rate, insufficient urine production, mental confusion, sleepiness, or weakness etc. If not corrected a person dies or suffers severe brain damage.

Umpqua Watersheds    We at Umpqua Watersheds have been observing for quite some time the rapid decline of native fish runs. The streams of our region express a shocking level of reduction of species diversity and overall health. Conditions associated with the inability of the aquatic ecosystem to resist invasive species and diseases all point to our watersheds suffering from a kind of hypovolemic shock i.e. low flow water levels. The outbursts of toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are appearing throughout the main stem and tributaries of the Umpqua river system. Examination of Macroinvertebrate species tells a tale of greatly diminished stream health in the majority of the waterways.

Intuitively most of us see these conditions – and react. We shake our heads and bewail the beleaguered state of the aquatic environment. The influence of low river system flows seems apparent to us all. At the extreme low flow rates of the river and tributaries, native species are forced into small warm pools and narrow channels. Small Mouth Bass are waiting there to eat their fill. They along with other invasive plants, diseases and species thrive in the warm shallow waters. This stresses our wild indigenous species only further.

Low Flows and Timber Sale Comments   UW’s Conservation and Restoration committees have been corroborating. We’ve been marveling at the unbelievable lack of science associated with the impact of low flows on our waterways. It was only this year that we became aware of the lack of concern by agency personnel regarding this very obvious problem. Recently there was a Perry-Jones paper released relating low flows to clear cutting, plantation stand growth and the Oregon Forest Practices act. Time and again our objections have been rebuffed based on one or another spurious reason. Umpqua Watersheds has made it its policy to interject the results of the Perry-Jones paper when timber extraction will obviously further influence the flow rates of streams.

Much to our surprise there is very little that has been done to challenge Federal and State agency proposals that only exacerbate the poor stream flow rates. How can we recover our threatened native fish runs without a comprehensive review of the current science around low flows caused by short tree farm rotations and concurrent road systems? A change in forest management policy for public and private forest health is needed before it is too late. Before the proverbial natural world hypovolemic shock develops into a greater terminal state.

We Have a Plan   Umpqua Watersheds has consulted with reputable scientists and academia regarding these latest findings. It is clear to us that greater emphasis must be paid to the influence of management of our watersheds on low stream flow rates. We would like to contract with a an aquatic scientist to create a compendium of data, science and further research on the topic of low flow rates associated with clear cutting, tree stand age and federal, state and county timber management. We are convinced that no matter what, true restoration will always be limited within those watersheds that include heavy handed corporate timber and forest management practices. Presently the public agencies design their timber harvests based on a myopic view, not considering the influence of industrial timber around their project designs. They ignore the surrounding landscape.

Our vision sees the need to include the influence of young tree stands holistically in watershed analysis – especially the ones trapped in the box of O&C checkerboard landscapes. We are initiating a campaign to turn the tide and bring industrial and public land management into the twenty first century.

I am soliciting both financial and volunteer support of the campaign. What needs to be done is substantive and costly. Success will require a deep commitment on the part of regional conservationists. There is little, if any, grant money to support this work.

Feedback from You   This effort won’t go forward without feedback from you. If you are tired of looking at massacred clear cut mountain sides and desire a reasonable management practice in our watersheds – the time is now for you to support our plan. Pushing the fiscal responsibility of damage done onto the public must stop. Sound science and research must be done. There’s no other way to move forward. If this piques your interest, email either myself or Joseph Quinn. We will keep you informed with progress if any. Keep in mind that Board of Directors and Committee Chairs at Umpqua Watersheds are volunteers. Any financial support will go to support UW’s Low Flow Science Campaign.

Thank you in advance for your interest in what we are all about, as well as your contributions to making this work.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)