State of the Animas

What started out more than a century ago with Woodrow Wilson giving the first presidential speech to Congress since Thomas Jefferson ended the tradition, the State of the Union has become a sort of political spectacle.

And it’s brought some memorable moments, like Bill Clinton declaring, “the era of big government is over” (umm, didn’t happen). In 2015, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell asleep during Obama’s speech, later admitting she and other justices were “not 100% sober.” Oh, and who could forget, this year a certain Republican dream team heckling Biden. Ah, politics in America.

Thursday night’s State of the Animas should prove less controversial, although there will be a good discussion on our beloved river and some hard cider available (pour some out for RBG).

Starting at 6:30 p.m., Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s Jim White and Mountain Studies Institute’s Scott Roberts will talk about the current health of the river, which has seen some troubles in recent years.

Since Western settlement, the Animas has been on quite a journey. Up until the 1970s, the Animas was essentially a drainpipe for mine activity in Silverton and agriculture farther down valley. It wasn’t until the environmental moment in the ’70s/’80s that the Animas started to get cleaned up, eventually becoming the mecca for fishing, rafting and recreatiing we now know and love.

But that doesn’t mean threats to the waterway are over. Most recently, the Animas was severely impacted by floods off the 416 Fire burn scar, causing a near complete die-off of fish in the river. It turns out, however, you’ll hear some good news Thursday: the Animas is recovering.

Fires, and subsequent floods, are natural processes, acting as a sort of reset for the environment. Most studies show that rivers rebound three to five years after a fire, and with the 416 Fire happening in 2018, we’re right on track.

White said the die-off allowed wildlife officials to start from scratch managing the river. Previously overrun by brown trout, CPW filled the river with rainbows. Also, the reset allowed native fish, such as sculpin and bluehead suckers, to reclaim their habitat naturally.

Roberts, too, said a robust research effort has found the Animas is on a “relatively rapid trajectory toward pre-fire conditions.” Aquatic insects, a great indicator of stream health, are coming back in force, and water quality rarely exceeds health and safety standards.

While all this is good news – of course, there’s a caveat: climate change and drought. Less water and higher water temperatures bring a whole host of issues for river health and aquatic life. 

“This is not something going away, and we’re going to have to try to manage around it,” White said.

So if you’re interested to learn more, head to Outdoorsy, 934 Main Ave. If you have too much cider and fall asleep, don’t get caught.

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(For the record, the Telegraph does not condone jumping into the river, or any body of water, head first. And always wear your PFD.)

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