Goin’ eco

It may take catastrophe to turn some folks into environmentalists

For a couple of years during college, I lived alone on my family’s farm west of the Sacramento River, near Hamilton City. Well, technically, I shared it with my German shepherd and three horses.

I have a great affection for the property. My grandparents bought it before I was born and farmed almonds and walnuts and ran a small herd of cattle there. I grew up in the East Bay, where there was plenty to do, but some of my favorite childhood memories are of visiting “the ranch.” There, I’d explore Stony Creek, tubing down the waterway with my brother and cousins and making forts in the arundo grasses that line it.

As an adult, at certain times of the year, I’d chase off trespassers, mostly hunters who sneaked around during dove and quail season. I took to greeting them while carrying my late grandfather’s shotgun. Not pointed at them, mind you.

“Hello, can I help you?” I’d ask, politely. “Do you have permission to hunt here?”

Of course, I knew they didn’t. Most of the time, they’d sheepishly apologize and make a quick exit. There were a few who protested, which elicited some colorful language from me telling them to beat it. I mostly was concerned about the welfare of my animals. More than once they and I were rained down upon by buckshot.

One day, a helicopter dropped a machine strapped to a parachute just a couple dozen yards from my back porch. I saw Red Dawn as a kid, so the first thing I did was reach for the 12-gauge. Within a few minutes, a uniformed stranger came out of nowhere with a long cord to plug into the device and to other ones in the area. I greeted him like I would any strange man without permission to be there. He quickly explained that the equipment was to check for gas in this bucolic neighborhood. Turns out there was a lot of it. Over the next few years, I watched a boom in gas-well construction. There’s even a fracked well in Glenn County, very near the Sacramento River. Considering it’s located within the boundaries of the Lower Tuscan Aquifer—our source of drinking water—it’s a scary prospect.

That’s why I was so baffled when Maureen Kirk was the only member of the Butte County Board of Supervisors who favored a county ordinance prohibiting hydraulic fracturing a few months ago. After all, the process requires the use of vast amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals. Risking contamination of the Tuscan Aquifer to enrich private companies and a few landowners is a fool’s gamble. Moreover, we’re in the middle of a historic drought. That level of water waste alone is reason enough to ban the practice.

Today, my father and stepmom, along with my uncle and cousin, live on that beautiful property outside of Hamilton City. They aren’t environmentalists by any stretch. But if someone poisoned their well, I think they’d convert quicker than you can say Remington.