Ted Halstead: One Man’s Battle Against Armies Of Nighttime Dumpers – May 13, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

As Arcata celebrated Godwit Days last month, Ted was out on Liscom Slough cleaning up the latest mess.

Liscom slough is a tributary of Humboldt Bay. The coastal trail crosses Liscom slough on Jackson Ranch Road. At 50 years of age, I was in search of a comfortable bike ride that would allow me to get daily exercise and provide me with a feeling of getting away from the stresses of daily life.

Little did I know what I would see when I looked off the bridge on Jackson Ranch Road and into Liscom Slough. There below was a mass of auto parts of every description, bags of animal parts too numerous to mention, pay phones and newspaper vending machines, along with a variety of everything from ammunition to costume jewelry.

Three vehicles that had been driven into the slough were also evident. The slough over time had become toxic from the incredible diversity of discarded objects. It was not uncommon to find ten auto batteries at a time dumped in the slough. Once, when driving by, I noticed a cooler of methamphetamine chemicals floating next to shore. It was very common to find 50-gallon garbage cans of marijuana shake going in and out with the tide. Other times it would be tires on rims or computer monitors floating just at water surface level. All of these items, if not retrieved, would enter the bay with the outgoing tide. Some unusual things that I found: a bowling ball and pins, a parachute, a semi-truck bumper, sex toys and an envelope with $1,000 cash.

Liscom Slough is drainage for agricultural lands. It eventually terminates in the Mad River slough near the Sierra Pacific mill. The upper reaches are home to many amphibians and migratory waterfowl that rely on this ecosystem for food and shelter. When the slough becomes an estuary, it becomes a nursery for many aquatic organisms.

I have observed as many as 1,500 juvenile crabs pass under the bridge in one hour at low tide during the summer months. Juvenile smelt, herring and anchovies can be seen in large numbers swimming through the eel grass under the bridge. Also, if one looks closely, one will see sponges of several varieties and oysters. The bat rays that live in the bay swim up the slough with the tide to eat mollusks and crustaceans.

Sardines scurry around in a divot in the bed of Liscom Slough made by a car someone dumped there. The inadvertent habitat creation was offset by the toxins also dumped in the fragile waterway, including PCB-laden lighting ballasts, paint and roof tar. Photo courtesy George Ziminsky.

I’m getting a little ahead of my story. I decided to slowly remove whatever garbage and junk I could from the slough over a period of almost 10 years. First the cars were sledge hammered apart and hauled off in my small Toyota pickup.

Todd Van Herpe, owner of the Humboldt Bay Oyster Company, put on his waders and helped clean the channel of debris. If only more individuals that benefit from the natural resources that Humboldt Bay provides were responsible stewards the way Todd is, then the bay would be far better off. Slowly, a coalition of concerned agencies under the guidance of the Humboldt Baykeeper took action.

Three “No Dumping” signs were installed, notifying the public of their increased responsibility to do the right thing and not the easy thing. Human nature being what it is, the occasional relapse will occur but improvement has been made for the slough. Eel grass beds have returned, and a greater variety of bird life has been observed.

If you’re looking for a wonderful place to kayak, bird watch, paint, bike, run or walk, Liscom Slough will not disappoint. It is a beautiful place that is worthy of a better fate.

Ted Halstead is the conscience of the Arcata Bottom.

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