River herring crowd a small tributary in Maine. A friend recently emailed a photo to me. In it, a stream is filled by fish. The dark bodies of river herring jostle against each other, packing the channel from bank to bank. And for the first time, I saw an image that depicted the claim, made repeatedly by pioneers when the United States was young, that “the fish were so thick you could walk across the stream without getting your feet wet.” That always sounded to me like a Bunyanesque tall tale, but this photo suggested those pioneers weren’t guilty of hyperbole. They simply were searching for words that could somehow do justice to the incredible sight before them. Still staring at that photo, another phrase popped into my head: “They’re bending the curve!” The “they” referred to the Penobscot Restoration Trust which had orchestrated the removal of two dams on the Penobscot River in Maine. The “curve” refers to the steady erosion of fish and wildlife populations documented across the planet, such as the 83% decline in freshwater-dependent species tracked by the Living Planet Index . For nearly half a century, that Index has followed a consistent downward curve, […]

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