In Search of Another Good Bad Branch
Cumberland Chapter clean water activist and lifelong sportsman Tim Guilfoile was recently named Conservation Editor of a new online magazine, The Contemporary Sportsman, where he authors a regular column, Wilderness Journal, in his official capacity as Deputy Director of the Sierra Club's Water Sentinels Program.
Contemporary Sportsman publisher Jim Stenson says a Sierra Club presence in a fly-fishing or hunting magazine is a natural fit. "I know a lot of Sierra Club members hunt and fish," he says. "At its heart, Contemporary Sportsman is a very green magazine, and so is its sister publication, Contemporary Wingshooter. I want to give the Club an opportunity to interact with our members and our demographic. They participate in conservation, and we're more than happy to promote the Sierra Club's watershed and habitat projects."
Guilfoile's latest column, In Search of Another Good Bad Branch (scrollable PDF), recounts his visit to a stream in the mountains of eastern Kentucky called Bad Branch. As part of the Bad Branch Falls Nature Preserve, the stream is off-limits to fishing. But its pristine beauty inspired Guilfoile to set off in search of other mountain streams where he could indulge his passion for fly-fishing.
Although he'd fished the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, Guilfoile had never fished the range in his home state. He got the most current computerized topographical maps available and chose an area that looked like it would be chock-full of good fishing streams. What he found when he got there shocked him.
"I arrived at my destination about midday," Guilfoile writes, "but the mountain was gone and so was the stream. I continued exploring for the next two days. At some destinations the streams had been buried; at others they ran red or were filled with sediment. Absolutely none showed evidence of aquatic life. This was a Kentucky I had never witnessed firsthand."
What Guilfoile was witnessing was the aftermath of mountaintop removal coal mining, a process that clear-cuts the forests, blasts hundreds of feet off the mountaintops, and dumps millions of tons of "overburden" into the surrounding valleys, polluting all the waters running off the site.
"The enormity of the destruction is unfathomable," Guilfoile writes. "More than 2,000 miles of streams, 500 mountains, and 1.2 million acres have been destroyed by mountaintop removal mining in eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee."
Over the next three years he collected samples from every stream he could get to in eastern Kentucky. "The results were frightening," he says. "Nearly all the water was polluted with some form of heavy metals, including mercury, selenium, arsenic, iron, and many others."
Tha Appalachian Mountains are the most biologically diverse region in the United States, and Kentucky's portion of the range is home to the headwaters of three major river networks that empty into the Ohio, the largest tributary of the Mississippi. The destruction and contamination of these headwaters and tributaries have dire consequences for water quality and habitat for hundreds of miles downstream.
"And then there are the people," Guilfoile writes. "In my travels, I've met hundreds of people whose health has been compromised, whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, whose water has been contaminated, and who no longer have a place to hunt or fish. In order to take care of our fellow citizens and our mountains, mountaintop removal mining has got to stop—and it must end now, if we and future generations are to be safe and healthy."
Below, a home sits next to a mountaintop removal site in Martin County, Kentucky.
Jim Stenson reports that Contemporary Sportsman has received lots of email expressing outrage about mountaintop removal since the current issue of the magazine came out on April 1.
To read the whole issue of The Contemporary Sportsman, go to thecontemporarysportsman.com, then click on the image of the magazine cover and follow the prompts to log in. Guilfoile encourages clean water activists to subscribe so they can use the articles in their organizing efforts. "It's free," he says, "and the magazine does not sell or distribute email addresses at all... period, the end."