The Delicate Cycles of Nature
It’s truly amazing how here in Colorado one year from the next can be so different when it comes to this time of the year based on how much snow we had during the winter and spring. This year the April showers brought more snow than rain, and that means more snow pack in the mountains, which will eventually mean more water in our streams and rivers. Most people in the flat lands of Denver don’t understand the full impact of this condition, they generally only think about how it affects watering their lawn. What a lot of people don’t understand is the impact to wildlife, especially fish, which is my main priority this time of year.
The late-season snow and rain that hit most of the state this year turned around a potentially successive year of low snow pack and precipitation. Only a few weeks ago people were talking about another drought year, and now our snow pack in the mountains is over 100% of normal in most places, while the southern part of the state is still a little dry. To put this situation into perspective I will offer my real-life observation over the past two summers at my favorite place, Marvine Camp, which is at 9,600 feet in elevation. I have been going to this camp for 13 years, and in 2011 the snow drifts were six feet deep on June 28th at the place where we camp. In 2012 it was so dry that we couldn’t have a fire. The pictures below are of Kyle at the exact same place in each year.
What the low-moisture years mean to the fish populations, as well as other aquatic organisms and even wildlife that depend on the cycles of seasonal water flow, is that their life cycle is disrupted, and their chances for survival are in peril. Dams have the same impact on downstream rivers if too little water is let out at critical times of the year. The entire ecosystem of rivers and water drainage was a master plan by Mother Nature, or God, depending on what you believe. I think Mother Nature is God’s wife, although I haven’t found anything to prove this theory.
Rivers and streams need to be flushed out by seasonal flooding to clear the sediment that has built up and bring in new nutrients from the surrounding land. This act does so many things; it clears nesting areas for fish to lay eggs, it clears the small rocky areas where fry can hide from predators once they are born, it provides the food that vegetation needs to grow, thus providing oxygen and cover for fish, and the sudden increase, then decrease in water creates back water areas where young water fowl and frogs can remain safe in the fragile early stages of their lives.
When these seasonal floods don’t happen, organisms that have relied on them for thousands of years are confused. A fish that normally lays eggs in late May will hesitate because the conditions are not right. Ultimately the fish will lay the eggs at a later time, and the fry will be born into an environment that cannot sustain them; there will be no hiding places, no vegetation for oxygen or cover, and no smaller aquatic insects to eat because they have been affected in the same manner. This all translates into a lost season of reproduction of fish, the things they eat, as well as the other animals that depend on these conditions to survive. Ironically, the same thing happens at the other end of the extreme, such as I witnessed in 2011.
Nature is a fragile, yet resilient and powerful thing, and it never ceases to amaze me how wild beings survive the trials they are faced with on a daily basis. Studying the cycles and forces of nature teaches me a lot about how to live my own life, not only from a survival aspect, but from a human aspect as well. It teaches me a lot about what is really important in life, and what is not. It gives me the inner strength to face whatever challenges I may face in life, whatever they might be, and the confidence to know that I will overcome them. We can learn a lot from nature.