Tuesday, June 13, 2017

An Open Letter to Don Hoch, Agency Director Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and others

Juan Carlos Aguilar
PO Box 2397
Lake Oswego, OR 97035

Don Hoch, Agency Director
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
Associated Departments, Members, and Constituents
P.O. Box 42650
Olympia, WA 98504-2650

Dear Mr. Hoch, Departments, Members, and Constituents:

I'm writing to you to share an ongoing issue at one of the State Parks. In this case, Battle Ground Lake State Park. I've been going there for almost seven years. I don't feel that there is a resolution to this issue, so in order to rectify the issue, I've decided to not return, nor encourage others to visit.

A little background about myself. I spent 10 years in banking, finally quitting in 2006. Deciding to take time off and rediscover myself, I found scuba diving. Loving it, I continued through most of the recreational courses eventually finding technical diving. In 2008, I decided to learn to teach and completed a program to do so. After years of traveling around the country and to many exotic international dive destinations, I made my way to the Pacific Northwest to teach full time. I've been teaching full time to students as I find them, most being in the Portland, Vancouver, and Northern California areas. I chose the Pacific Northwest because of the abundance of lakes and the dives sites in and around the Puget Sound. These waters hold some of the most beautiful and amazing diversity even rivaling tropical destinations!

Battle Ground Lake was a regional destination that I could take divers wishing to learn, advance their skills, and even enjoy the amazing flora and fauna. There is a resident Bald Eagle I point out that everyone enjoys seeing catching fish as well as a pair of Mallards that live their throughout the year that come to shore to say hello upon our arrival. As with most bodies of water, many love to fish. I've dove with animals as large as Humpback Whales and schools of newly hatched fry, so being in the water with aquatic creatures is one of the joys of scuba diving I've come to love dearly.

As with most fields that require specialized training, there are those that excel while others that only do enough just to collect a paycheck. While the life of a scuba diving instructor may seem glamorous and there is a lot of diving, it is a lot of work, requires a physical toll on the body, and even has moments of danger because as you know, there is risk involved with scuba diving. I don't own a retail dive shop and I do not sell scuba diving equipment. I only teach diving. I've made it a point to make sure my students receive training above and beyond the standards of all the certifying agencies. It is only by having a respect for the equipment, the environment, the underwater world, and a grasp on safe diving practices do those I teach come home to their loved one's at the end of every dive day.

One of the aspects of scuba diving I admire most is an admiration for the diverse environments that thrive in these varied waters I've explored. So much so, I even saw a freshwater jellyfish1 in Battle Ground Lake last year. Sadly, this is an invasive species, but one of my students got to see it. The last reported sighting was in 2004.2 My report can be found below.3 Battle Ground Lake is not free from other introductions. In particular, an unprecedented amount of fishing line, fishing hooks, fishing lures, and lead weights which are surely damaging to plants and animals.4 This is also accompanied by an obscene amount of waste and trash.

Every year, numerous dive shops bring divers and make it a point to do dives that remove this trash. These “clean-up” dives hardly touch the surface of the amount that needs to be removed. One aspect of every scuba diving certification agency is to promote a respect for the environment, promote the health of the waters we dive in, and most of all to minimize, reduce, and if possible, eliminate any injury to the creatures living in these areas. I was in the lake on June 11 and June 12, 2017. As expected, we saw a bewildering amount of trash, fishing line, lead weights, and various garbage.

June 11th was the day in particular that I have to tell you about. Before entering the water, I provide an extended briefing that describes the site, possible hazards, procedures for diving on a soft and silty lake bottom and the risks of diving in a body of water with limited visibility and entanglement hazards. My personal training also includes wreck penetration, cave diving, and zero visibility environments, so you can conclude that staying away from those hazards is not only practical, but necessary for those that are not trained in those specialties!

After exiting the water a group of fishermen approached us and told us that we broke all their lines. I tried to explain how that is impossible to do so, but I can explain what probably happened. Upon seeing the bubbles, the fishermen thought their lines would become entangled in the divers and reeled them in quickly. There is a large underwater wooden platform that those lines were in the middle of. By reeling in faster than they would otherwise, their lines became caught and hence broken by their own actions. As you imagine, scuba diving requires moving from one place to another. No matter where divers are in the lake, it is possible that the two could meet.

Here is where their lack of understanding about scuba diving exists. Divers do not walk on the lake bottom. Actually, we are neutrally buoyant. What that means is that we are neither rising or falling. If a fishing line was to come into contact with a diver, it would actually take the diver to the surface. This unsafe act is why no diver will engage fishing line, rope, or cables underwater. Additionally, as the diver ascended, the diver would actually become positively buoyant and lighter in the water. While diving in environments with fishing line, divers are instructed to never touch fishing line as entanglement is a dangerous reality. No diver would ever enter a new environment and choose to become entangled and hauled to the surface.

Additionally, some of the fishermen said that we might have grabbed their lines and broke them intentionally. This also is unlikely and frankly, impossible. Divers in the lake are wearing thick neoprene gloves which makes grabbing fishing line impossible. The only way that a diver could break a line if the test strength was low enough would be to wrap it around each hand and then to pull each hand apart. Not only would this be incredibly dangerous if a line was being reeled in, but the chance of being impaled by a fish hook is a risk as well. During this day of diving, each of us were also able to see a half dozen fish, some in various stages of decay that were hooked, entangled, and had died because of the inability to free themselves.

I don't imagine that it is any fisherman's goal to let the fish die entangled at the lake bottom. If you're wondering if our presence in the water frightens the fish, on the contrary, the fish are inquisitive and come up to divers all the time. Divers do not scare the fish away. The discussion from the fisherman included a choice of various vulgarities as well as someone throwing rocks at the divers in the water. The ranger on duty talked to both of our groups and was very diplomatic, however could do nothing for either party. It seems that every year there are fishermen that report that divers are interfering with their fishing. The lack of understanding about what we do in the water is incomprehensible to people on the shore.

While there are far more fisherman using the lake than divers, the fisherman are vastly responsible for the amount of waste, fishing line, hooks, lead weights, and various refuse found in the water. If divers stop cleaning up the lake, it is only a matter of time before fishing is impossible. Therefore, I have no other option than to move forward with and encourage divers to avoid Battle Ground Lake. This is not because of the sport of fishing, but it is because of the hateful attitudes and experiences that myself and other divers have been experiencing on a regular and ongoing basis. It is only a matter of time before a physical altercation occurs and with so many other places to dive, there is no reason to continue with the ongoing harassment or danger to these divers. I was under the impression that the lake was for all to use, but our group has not been met with any considerations only accusations.

I've attached a copy of the Washington State Parks' Mission, Vision, and Values Statements. These concepts and ideas match diver's goals, but it appears that fishermen are exempt from stewardship and are unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions...

It is really disappointing that fisherman are creating an environment of entitlement and have facilitated a need for this action.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission cares for Washington's most treasured lands, waters, and historic places. State parks connect all Washingtonians to their diverse natural and cultural heritage and provide memorable recreational and educational experiences that enhance their lives.
Washington's state parks will be cherished destinations with natural, cultural, recreational, artistic, and interpretive experiences that all Washingtonians enjoy, appreciate, and proudly support.
Core Values
The agency has adopted the following core values:
Commitment to stewardship that transmits high quality park assets to future generations
Dedication to outdoor recreation and public enjoyment that welcomes all our citizens to their public parks
Excellence in all we do
Involving the public in our policy development and decision making
Support for one another as we translate our mission into reality


Juan Carlos Aguilar

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Sailfin Sculpin are one of my favorite fish in the Puget Sound...

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