Notes from the Field: Catching Fish to Conserving Rivers

March 10, 2023
Notes from the Field: Catching Fish to Conserving Rivers

By Ben KittellI have spent my life around water. Some of my earliest memories are flooded with countless hours splashing in an icy creek as it meandered through our campsite in the Rocky Mountains. There was something about the endlessly moving water that spoke to me. The pulse of the waves, the smoothness of the rocks.

Looking back, it was these seemingly small connections that would develop into a defining influence in my life. As I grew older, weekends were spent whitewater kayaking and fly fishing the local rivers and streams. These activities would evolve into passionate jobs as a river guide and a college degree in Environmental Communication. The time I spent at university fostered a strong sense of responsibility to act as a caretaker and steward for the River I had come to love.

The River teaches many lessons. Impermanence and change are constant-from day to day, season to season, and year to year. The angler is aware of this and knows they must be flexible and adapt to these changing conditions if they are to be successful in their pursuit. I have been extremely fortunate to have spent so much of my life on the water, listening to these lessons.

Through the years my relationship with the River has deepened and my connection evolved. Where I once pursued a heart-racing thrill, I now enjoy peaceful contentment. As I have grown and changed, I have seen the influences of a changing world take their toll on my dear friend the River. Dams impede natural processes for decades, and extreme drought causes rivers to practically run dry. Impacts are even caused by those who simply seek an adventure from the River, like my angler friends and me.

The competition and pressure for this resource become more apparent with each passing year. The fault cannot be placed with any one group when there are so many competing for the life-sustaining resources that the River provides. Communities should have a right to clean drinking water, as should the farmer who has relied for generations on the summer flows to sustain their crops and feed their family. I should be able to benefit in my way from what the River offers, and so should you.

But the River also has a right; not just to survive as a trickle, but to thrive in its own balanced ecosystem. In a world of scarcity and competing "rights", everyone is yelling their loudest to be heard. Yet who will stand up and speak for the River? The River cannot attend meetings or lobby on its behalf. So that task falls to us. All of us who feel a connection to the River and what it generously offers.

With so many stakeholders relying on the same resource, the only way to effect lasting change is to work together to build a sustainable future for all to thrive. Seems too good to be true? Well, it is already happening.

This past Winter, I had the privilege of working with the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC) and have witnessed the power of collaboration. By working from neutral ground, the DRC is able to be a trusted partner to every major stakeholder. Including my dear friend, the River. My personal journey into the world of conservation has allowed me to grow as an individual and a member of my community. Learning from experienced leaders working at the forefront of water conservation has ignited a passion for this work. While I get fewer days to spend out on the water now, I find comfort in knowing that the work I do will provide an opportunity for countless more people to connect and listen to the River.

About the author: Ben Kittell joined the DRC as a Development and Communications Intern for the winter and spring of 2023. Ben has an educational background in Environmental Communications from Colorado State University. For the past decade, he has shared his passion and enthusiasm for Central Oregon's rivers as a fly fishing guide. It is now Ben's hope to continue to foster positive relationships with water and the community through work in the conservation field.

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An aerial view of a body of water.