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Copper River dipnetters are pigs -- and nobody is cleaning up after them

Tragedy of the commons: Unlike well-policed Kenai River dipnetters, Copper River dipnetters are left to their own devices, and they're utter pigs. At Chitina, they leave feces and toilet paper everywhere. What're they, so proud of their dumps they need to show everyone? Loren Holmes photo

CHITINA -- Copper River dipnetters are pigs. As a dipnetter myself, this is a sad observation to be forced to make, but there is no denying it.

Dipnetters seem to tend toward the piggish. Witness the mouth of the Kenai River where city fathers have for years wrestled with waste left by these salmon fishermen. Kenai, fortunately, manages the madness. The city stations a dozen or more port-a-potties adjacent to the fishery, along with trash containers.

Nobody manages the Copper River. There are a few outhouses at O'Brien Creek and a few more five miles downstream at Haley Creek, but the Copper River dipnet fishery takes place nowhere near those places.

Most of the fishing is done in Wood Canyon between them. There is usually a dumpster at Haley Creek or along the road back to the community of Chitina. It is sometimes used, often not.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game's idea of waste management is this: "The Department of Transportation may supply dumpsters and porta-potties at O’Brien, but be prepared to pack out what you pack in, including human waste."

Yeah, right. Like that's going to happen.

Waste from 8,000 people

Nobody has ever seen an all-terrain vehicle heading out the now-abandoned Copper River Highway along the canyon wall with a Mount McKinley Clean Mountain Can lashed to the back.

How many Chitina-area dipnetters have even heard of a Clean Mountain Can? It's basically a bucket with a lid in which climbers on 20,320-foot Mount McKinley are required to crap. There are about 1,200 people a year who trek up that mountain every year. There are about 8,000 people who go to Chitina to dipnet in a season. The latter do not crap in cans.

They crap in the woods. Anywhere and everywhere in the woods. It might be better if they crapped in the roaring, turbid Copper River, which is little more than a slurry pipeline to the sea. One could not find a better mixing and recycling system for human waste. But people don't crap there.

And it would definitely be better if they at least threw their toilet paper in the river and removed an eyesore from the shorelines, or at least buried the paper so others wouldn't need to look at it. But they don't do that either. 

How can you expect people who can't be bothered to pack home empty beer and soda cans or water bottles or anything else to show any respect for how the environment looks?

Piglets and big hogs

If the dipnetters working the mouth of the Kenai River are little piglets, the dipnetters here are big hogs.

Near the upper end of the dipnet fishery at the Chitina-McCarthy Bridge, there is a state campground with outhouses. It is on the east side of the bridge. This is too far to go for people fishing on the west side. They crap in the woods and brighten it with their TP flowers.

Whatever happened to colored toilet paper? It might at least look better. But then TP is only the half of it.

People dump their litter on the beach here at the west end of the bridge. This year is better than others. Someone started a pile on the beach some 50 feet from the road. So instead of the litter being scattered everywhere it is concentrated in an ever growing dump of water bottles, food wrappers, dirty diapers, discarded nets, used duct tape, abandoned clothing, you name it. 

Whatever anyone would throw in a normal dump is probably there. And, of course, along the beach there are still some of the water bottles dropped and left where people last used them, plus a broken-but-salvageable dipnet tangled in the brush with a couple dead salmon decaying in its webbing.

No clean-up coming

It does not speak highly of the conservation ethic of Chitina dipnetters. Who will clean up this mess when the fishing season ends? Duh. No one.

The occasional, environmentally-minded dipnetter (there are a few) will pack home a bag of garbage or more, but in general the jetsam -- if left below flood level -- will remain to be swept away by the river. Or it will remain forever.

You can still find decades-old beer cans along the abandoned Copper River highway in Wood Canyon. Sometimes people are nice enough to throw them over the banks into the woods or rocks, so they don't leave quite such an unsightly mess along the drive.

How thoughtful.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com