New Year Message from Christine Mahler

January 31, 2022

I promised my team I would write my new year ED message today, but I wasn’t quite feeling it. So instead, I was catching up on the news. In fact, I just finished reading an article in High Country News about the Pacific lamprey.

If you’re not familiar with them, they are pretty much the ugliest, most disturbing monster-fish ever. They’re also my new favorite fish (although, to be fair, I didn’t really have favorite fish prior).

These prehistoric creatures haven’t evolved since at least the Cretaceous Era, 66 million years ago, making their species older than trees. They’ve survived FIVE mass extinctions. But they’re at risk. Over 90% of their numbers have been wiped out. And the shocking culprit? Humans (ok, maybe not so shocking).

This is just a taste of the article, which I highly recommend you read. You’ll learn about how Tribes all along the West Coast are leading the way in preserving these fish. And maybe you’ll finish the article with a new favorite fish, as I did.

But even if you don’t—even if you wake up tomorrow having had nightmares about them in your sleep—I hope you’ll take a minute to consider their plight.

These are not animals with a direct economic connection. There’s no lamprey fishing industry lobbying for their protection. Their harvest doesn’t directly fund our schools and fire stations. And, in fact, the dams that power our cities are one of the greatest impediments to their survival.

But these fish are an important part of our ecosystem. They have been here for longer than my mind can even comprehend. Their spawning in places far beyond the reach of salmon have fed our lands and forests. Their young filter the water of our streams. They provide food and resources to plants and animals in every stage of life. They play an important role in the cultural lives of many (most? all?) of the first nations in the area. This region is far more their home than it will ever be ours. But we are killing them off and few seem to care.

But I am now one of those who does. I am reminded, yet again, of the importance of the natural world not for the benefits provided for humans, but in its own right. This is a perspective far more common among the First Nations—likely one of the few you could accurately ascribe to all of these diverse communities. And it’s one I’d like to see adopted more broadly in the recreation and conservation world.

Perhaps it’s easiest to think about our work in terms of “restoring this stream is important to improve water quality for the neighboring community” or “building this trail is important so the local kids can experience nature.” Those things are certainly true and important. And they’re easy for us to comprehend and support.

But restoring that stream is also important simply because it is important. Nature is important whether or not local kids experience it. The natural world has value in its own right. We should love it for what it is—not for what it does for us. And I think when we remember to do that, that is when we are truly loving it.

I’m making it my goal this year to do this more often—I hope you’ll join me. I’m certain that doing so will make this work we’re collectively doing to make a “greener, healthier, more equitable, and better Washington for all” even more meaningful.