The Ripple: A Call for Biotic Citizens!

What Are We Going to Do Now

I invite readers to join us at the beginning of Fall, as we help people become stewards of their local stream and river as biotic citizens. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Aldo Leopold was one of the shining lights of our long-awakening ecological movement; and he said that one of the drawbacks of seeing the world from the ecological perspective is that, at the same time you see the incredible beauty of the kinship of all living creatures, you also see the damage being done to our great shared life. He implored educational leaders to not only teach ecology, but to act on that bittersweet feeling of loss by getting involved in the “real world” of political activism to change the course of our collective destiny from that of the “conqueror of nature” to that of the “biotic citizen.” For this reason, he—a professor at the U. of Wisconsin—started the Wilderness Society.

I have always believed that, given the grim news coming from other parts of the world, our Happy Valley and Hilltowns were doing better ecologically than those parts. There are so many farmers concerned about soil and plant health, thought I, and so many nature lovers watching out for their favorite species and landscapes, and so many smart people acting rationally about energy and consumption issues hereabouts that we don’t need to worry about most of the grim things that are occurring elsewhere. It was a shock, therefore, to learn that our air quality gets a grade of “F” from the American Lung Association.  We aren’t making most of that air pollution; we inherit the wind from the cities and states out West. We are connected to everything else; that’s what ecology tells us; that’s how the world works.

If you’ve been following the news about what is happening to the Atlantic Salmon, you know the news isn’t good. Despite the best technology the state and federal government could muster, the salmon are not coming back again. Technology did not provide the solution. So what will—what can—prevent further extinctions of fish species in our rivers?

I asked Jason Johnson, a conservation biologist who works for Massachusetts’ anadromous fish stocking program, what we can do. There are 3 large problems, he said, that caused the demise of the Atlantic Salmon in the CT River: the fish- elevator at the Holyoke and ladder at the Turners Falls’ dams are not performing as promised, plus there are lots of tiny dams in tributary rivers that block migration; the water is too hot for the salmon and other anadromous fish to live in; and over-fishing in the Atlantic is severely impacting anadromous fish populations.

At the moment, we have less ability to stop over-fishing in the Atlantic than we have to improve the fish recovery operations at the dams, which will undergo re-licensing reviews in the near future, and which are crewed by engineers who don’t want more fish species to go extinct. The most positive effect we can have, that will improve the chances that anadromous and native fresh water fish will inhabit our rivers and streams, said Jason, is to improve their capacity to feed and shelter the fish. In short, we need to cool the water down and remove obstacles that inhibit the movement of fish from the CT River to the upland streams.

We cannot, he said, expect the government to do these things, however; budgets for fish recovery and habitat restoration are being cut drastically at the present moment. As disappointing as this news is, it does create an opportunity for what Hilltown Families has called “citizen scientists” to do what Aldo Leopold called for; the time has come for us to understand and inhabit our biome as biotic citizens: people who recognize that a better destiny for us and our larger family of creatures is called for and in fact required. Our Nonotuck biome has, from the colonial era onwards, fostered progressive movements that—though they started small and local—spread and positively changed the world: The Great Awakening, the Shays Rebellion, the Abolition and Gay Rights movements immediately come to mind. Let us use this time right now, as we say goodbye to the salmon that flourished for +/- 15,000 years, to realize our potential as a species that not only takes care of itself, but all of its many-specied family.

I invite readers to join us at the beginning of Fall, as we help people become stewards of their local stream and river. For 3 years we have, with the assistance of a growing number of biotic citizens, conducted rapid biotic assessments (collecting and inventorying aquatic insects) that provide us, and the government, with data that tells us how healthy our rivers and streams are. We have several schools who have adopted their closest water course to care for, and are welcoming all new comers. We are working with Mass DEP to set up a database where our research can be recorded so scientists, citizens, and policy makers can use it to improve the chances that we will not lose any more fish species to extinction. Once we, the people, know how healthy our rivers and streams are, then we can act intelligently to improve their health. I hope you will join us in September!!! If you would like to join an e-list so you will can get involved, please send a note to .


Kurt Heidinger, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Biocitizen, non-profit school of field environmental philosophy, based in the Western MA Hilltown of Westhampton, MA where he lives with his family.  Biocitizen gives participants an opportunity to “think outside” and cultivate a joyous and empowering biocultural awareness of where we live and who we are. Check out Kurt’s monthly column, The Ripple, here on Hilltown Families on the 4th Monday of every month to hear his stories about rivers in our region. Make the world of rivers bigger than the world of pavement inside of you!

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