Thanks for tuning into the first installation of the Fishing Etiquette Series brought to you by Fat Tire… Water and wildfires, anglers and brewers. We’ve got more in common than one would think… Whether you’re a brewer, a fly fishing guide, or anyone in between, the health of our watersheds matters because we all have a reliance on water.

In this article we got the chance to interview New Belgium brewer Cody Reif and St. Pete’s Fly Fishing Guide Josh Henriksen (with additional help from our friends at Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)) to hear their take on Wildfire and Water, and to gain some valuable tips on best practices for limiting our negative impact when it comes to these resources.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – Why does water matter to you?

Brewer – Water is one of the essential ingredients in beer.  When you purchase a pint the vast majority (+90%) of it is water. Water is also used in the farming of barely and hops, two other essential ingredients. We also use water for cleaning at the brewery which keeps the beer quality high. Simply put, without water there is no beer.

Guide – Water is obviously everything when it comes to fly fishing. My profession revolves around the quantity and quality of water because it dictates the productivity of fishing. But the topic of water is way bigger than that. I think of water as being integral to life in general.

CPRW – 80% of people in Colorado get their water from a forested watershed.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – How did the 2020 Cameron Peak Fire affect you as a brewer/guide in the Poudre River Watershed.

Brewer – We were lucky that the 2020 Cameron Peak fire didn’t disrupt our production. We use municipal water at New Belgium, and the city of Fort Collins was able to supply us with clean water throughout the fire season, but this won’t always be the case. Even though we weren’t affected this time around, it’s only a matter of time until a future fire event contaminates our water. It is possible to clean up contaminated water but it’s a difficult task and we’re not set up for it. We would likely have to shut down until water quality improves.

Guide – As a guide I go into each day assessing conditions: water levels, temperature, hatches, weather, etc. Fires, like the Cameron Peak Fire, add additional complexity to the situation because they change the hydrology of the watershed. Now, two years later, my daily decisions of where I’m going to take my clients is still being affected.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – The Cameron Peak Fire is an example of a growing trend of bigger and more frequent wildfires. What message would you pass on to others that have not yet experienced a large-scale wildfire in their watershed?

Brewer – It’s terrible! Beyond the concern of losing production capacity as a brewery, it’s awful to watch our river turn black with ash and know what the fire has done to the canyon and surrounding natural areas. 

Guide – I have fished in northern Colorado my entire life, and I’ve experienced a number of wildfires over the course of that time. The front range of Colorado is “the land of fire and flood,” and these events are part of the nature of this area. However, we need to understand the difference between accidental human induced wildfires and natural wildfires.

CPRW – The biggest threat to water quality in the west is accidental human-induced wildfires. It’s what keeps hydrologists at night. It has a resounding impact is up to 10 years of impact.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – Considering the projections that extreme wildfires will increase 14% by 2030 and 30% by 2050 (UNEP, 2020), what do you think we need to do to help mitigate future wildfires?

Brewer – In the short term you need to be responsible when spending time outdoors (knowing the regulations and observing fire bans, etc.) In the longer term, slowing or preventing climate change should be at the forefront. Supporting sustainable businesses and voting for environmentally conscious public servants are just two ways to fight. At New Belgium, we’re trying hard to do our part. Fat Tire recently became the first certified carbon neutral beer in the United States and we’re committing to making all of our beers carbon neutral by 2030. You can learn more at DrinkSustainably.com.

Guide – We need to think in the longterm. We need to think about how we can sustain our ecosystems, and how humans can live in balance with wild places. Northern Colorado is a perfect example of this. We have developed cities built right next to wild forested areas like the Poudre River watershed. We need to examine how to strike the balance between nature and human development.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – We understand that not all wildfires are bad. In what cases is wildfire actually helpful?

Brewer – Oh man! I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer that. I do know that the fires we see now are more intense because of climate change and mismanaged land. The forests aren’t burning on a regular cycle due in part to people living in them. That causes the forests to overgrow which makes them susceptible the pests like the pine beetle which turns them into giant tinderboxes of dead, dry wood. Add in drought and increased temperature and it’s a recipe for big catastrophic burns.

Guide – Fire is a part of nature, and I am always a proponent of supporting nature and the wildness of fish, rivers, and all aspects of our ecosystems. We need to learn to accept the beauty and necessity of natural fires while limiting unnecessary fires caused by human error (flicking cigarettes, not putting out campfires, etc.).

CPRW – Nearly 85 percent* of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans, so focusing on limiting accidental human-induced fires is super important.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – What is your vision for the future? How can we enjoy healthy watersheds for years to come?

Brewer – Events like the Cameron Peak fire have pushed climate change off of the front page of the newspaper and into our lives. A silver lining here is that people are more engaged and open to finding solutions than ever before. I would love to see a world where we’re committed as a community to protecting our watersheds not just from fires but from other threats like dams and overdevelopment. At least now more people have open eyes and are ready to start making change. 

Guide – In the future I hope we can find a way where humans can live cooperatively with nature. I think education will go a long way in helping us work with nature rather than against it.

, Fishing Etiquette: Wildfires and Water, Salmon Club Iceland
Courtesy of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW)

Flylords – We want to put together a list of wildfire best practices to help people improve their impact. What are some practices that you think belong on this list?

Responsible Recreation Tips

1) Choose a good spot for your campfire.

  • Do not build a campfire if the area prohibits them. Sometimes digging of pits may be prohibited due to archaeological or other concerns.
  • Do not build a campfire in hazardous, dry conditions.
  • Find out if the campground has an existing fire ring or fire pit.
  • If there is not an existing fire pit, and pits are allowed, choose a site at least 15 feet from tent walls, shrubs, trees or other flammable objects. Beware of low-hanging branches.
  • Choose an open, level location away from heavy fuels such as logs, brush or decaying leaves.
  • Take wind, and its direction, into account when choosing the site. Choose a spot that’s protected from gusts.

2) Stay attentive while a campfire is burning.

  • Keep your fire small.
  • Always keep water and a shovel nearby and know how to use them to put out your campfire.
  • Be sure an adult is always watching the fire.
  • Keep an eye on the weather! Sudden wind gusts can blow sparks into vegetation outside your cleared area, causing unexpected fires.

3) Don’t leave active campfires unattended.

  • Allow the wood to burn completely to ash, if possible
  • Pour lots of water on the fire. Drown ALL embers, not just the red ones. Pour until hissing sound stops
  • Stir dirt or sand into the embers with a shovel to bury the fire
  • With your shovel, scrape any remaining sticks and logs to remove any embers. Make sure that no embers are exposed and still smoldering
  • Continue adding water, dirt or sand and stirring with a shovel until all material is cool.
  • Remember, if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.

For more information on responsible campfire use, check out Smokey Bear’s Campfire Safety Guide.

4) Watch where you park

Don’t park in tall grass because the heat from a vehicle’s exhaust can start a fire.

5) Discard cigarettes appropriately

  • Whether smoking in the car, inside or outdoors, it’s always best to use an ashtray.
  • Grind out cigarettes, cigars or pipe tobacco in the dirt, never on a stump or a log
  • Do not throw smoking materials into brush or leaves.

6) Educate yourself on where your water comes from

Water conservation can be a pretty complicated topic, but it all begins by learning more about your local waters. We challenge you to research your local waters and find ways that you can help locally.

7) Volunteer and donate to your local watershed group (like CPRW!)

Take the time to find out if your local watershed has a corresponding nonprofit group. Most of the time these groups don’t have enough people or funding to carry out the large projects needed to conserve watersheds. Volunteering and/or donating to these groups will go a long way, and it benefits you directly because you live in the watershed.

8) Support climate action.

At the end of the day the larger trend is that no matter how much we limit human caused fires, we are only solving part of the issue. Since wild fires are on track to increase 14% by 2030 and 30% by 2050 (UNEP, 2020), we need to do our best to mitigate the longterm affects posed by climate change. A great place to start would be cracking a Fat Tire (America’s first carbon neutral beer) and checking out their resources on Drinking Sustainably.

We want to thank Fat Tire, St. Pete’s Fly Shop, and Coalition for the Poudre Watershed (CPRW) for collaborating on this article.

Stay tuned for the next installation of the Fishing Etiquette Series brought to you by Fat Tire. Next time we’ll be hitting the river for some tips on Float Fishing Etiquette.

Article written by Flylords Content Team Member Andrew Braker.

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