Speaking from experience

  • Gary Nelson

    Photo courtesy Mono Lake Committee

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Gary Nelson has been the Canoe Tour Director for the Mono Lake Committee for nearly 11 years. "We take people out here on Mono Lake and say, 'Here are the shrimp, here are the flies, here are the birds who eat the shrimp and the flies,'" he says. "A lightbulb goes on, and then we've got 'em. We've got 'em."

Gary Nelson: "We had kind of a blow-up in the Mono Lake Committee office recently, and everyone was all stressed out. I said, just think about the Walker Lake people. They don't have office stress because they don't have an office. They're working out of their living rooms. They would love to be where we are. They're three drought years away from losing their fishery. Next time you start to get stressed out, I told them, you think about that. It could be a whole lot worse.

"I brought Martha Davis, the former director of the Mono Lake Committee, out to a conference at Walker Lake a few years ago. She left saying, "Boy, this is way more complicated than Mono Lake." It's a bistate issue, the Walker River Paiutes are a real wild card, and the ranchers have so much more clout in the state. The water laws (in Nevada) are the equivalent of the 1872 Mining Law. They're back a century ago when, you know, "bold Caucasians carved an irrigated niche out of the dusty desert" ... that's the attitude out there.

"What I like about the Walker Lake Working Group is that they've got a realistic goal. They want the lake to come up and they want to have guaranteed flows. They're not trying to take huge acreages out of agricultural use. But right now, the Walker Lake Working Group is a ma-and-pa operation. They need to be willing to get out there, get bigger, and get organized. They need to have a visitor center where people can learn about the lake, and they need to have interns who will get excited about the cause. They need to run tours. They haven't made that leap yet, but they need to pretty soon.

"Three or four years ago, Lou (Thompson) invited me out to this party. They were feeling pretty down. I think they'd realized the enormity of what they were doing, that it wasn't going to be over in a year or two, it was going to go on for decades. I told them, when the Mono Lake Committee started, they didn't have any money and didn't have any political connections, but they were in the right. They took on L.A. and they beat them - because they were right."

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