AGENT ORANGE


For those of us of a certain age, the baby boom generation, the words in the title of this piece will bring up unsettling memories. For the sake of younger folks who may not know what Agent Orange was, it was a defoliant used in Vietnam that had dioxin as a principal ingredient. Agent Orange was used to keep the perimeters of firebases clear and to defoliate large swaths of jungle to expose the movements of the enemy. Many of the troops serving in Vietnam were exposed to it on a regular basis, and after they returned home, the dioxin began to take its toll on veterans.


The experience of warfare is a heavy enough burden for anyone to have to bear, but for the…

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The fishing journal begun by Theodore Lyman (who eventually came to own much of Red Brook) in 1867, and continued by his descendents for over 100 years, often details the threats posed to Red Brook by the 70 acres of cranberry bogs sitting upon the brook’s headwaters below White Island Pond. By 1954, DDT had reduced the native brook trout of Red Brook to the point that Charles and Henry Lyman had to stock brook trout from a nearby hatchery in order to maintain any fishing for themselves at the brook. Henry Lyman bitterly complained that the hatchery trout were a poor substitute for the native salter fishery, because they disappeared within a couple of weeks.

Between 2001 and the present, a partnership that includes Trout Unlimited, Mass. Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife and The Trustees of Reservations has (with help from the Massachusetts Div. of Ecological Restoration) removed four dams from the lower reach of Red Brook while adding logs and root wads to restore natural stream habitat features.

The result of this work was evident last Wednesday while I helped MDFW fisheries biologist, Steve Hurley, with electro-fishing and trout tagging at Red Brook. The trout that we were collecting and tagging were all wild brook trout, the descendents of the native trout that had been nearly brought to the brink of extinction in 1954 by DDT flowing down from the  cranberry bogs. In one small reach that had, before the dam removals, been punctuated by two cement flumes, we collected 20 trout that had been invisible to us, hidden as they were beneath logs and undercut banks, until Hurley probed the waters with his electric wand. The total number of brook trout collected was over 400 spread across all age classes. About 150 were recaptures, trout that had been previously tagged.

The point that I’m trying to make is that the Red Brook trout have survived in spite of the cranberry bogs. This hasn’t been the case on other streams. The brook trout of both the Childs River and the Coonamessett River on Cape Cod were extirpated by cranberry related activities in recent times. Now that the bog operations on those streams have ended, the streams are being re-populated with brook trout from nearby streams – but that’s another story. This story is about the end of cranberry operations at Century Bog and what that means for Red Brook and its native salter.

There are a host of ills that come from run of river cranberry operations. The flow of heated water rushing off of acres of bogs is only one. At Red Brook, these deluges used to leave weeds hanging in the trees at chest level. There is also over 100 years worth of sand that has washed off of the bogs into Red Brook, much of it contaminated. There are about 7 potentially toxic (for wildlife) chemicals used on bogs, which may be contributing to the low numbers and diversity of macro-invertebrates at Red Brook. When you add to all of this the utter ecological wreckage that the ditching and straightening of the stream represents, along with the plowing of the riparian zone into flat mono culture deserts – then expand the wreckage to almost every stream in the region – you have a large scale environmental disaster. And weirdly, it goes unnoticed, because no one remembers what once was – and what has been lost.

Take a look at Plymouth, Wareham and Cape Cod, and everywhere you will see brook trout streams that have been ruined by run of river cranberry operations.

Now you know why I’m celebrating the end of over 100 years of cranberry harvests at Century Bogs.





Red Brook at Century Bog

Those who are fans of Ernest Hemingway will recall that ‘An End to Something’ is the title of one of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. In the frame work of the story, the end refers to the end of the relationship between Nick and his girlfriend. However, the ‘end’ that I’m talking about here is not a love story. In fact, one can say that there is no love between a cranberry bog and a salter brook trout stream. But relief is coming at last to Red Brook. This autumn will mark the last harvest of cranberries at the Century Bogs.

Writing a 1954 entry to the Red Brook Journal, Charles Lyman complains…”Nothing the cranberry bogs do helps the fishing.” By 1954, cranberry bogs had been impacting Red Brook for almost 100 years. As early as 1871, Theodore Lyman III wrote…”The heated water from Bartlett’s Marsh [draw down of bogs] has thrown back the trout…”

The first cranberry bogs to be established along Red Brook were built in the brook’s headwaters around 1860 by the Crowell family, and were named the White Island Bogs. This was the first large cranberry bog complex to be established in Wareham. In 1900 the bogs were purchased by A.D. Makepeace (hence, Century Bogs) whose descendents would eventually own 12,000 acres of land in Plymouth and Wareham.

When the Century Bog property (245 acres) was purchased by the Massachusetts Dept. of Fish and Game, the agreement allowed the A. D. Makepeace Company to lease the bogs for a number of years in exchange for restoration construction at the site after the needed permits were acquired by the Mass. Div. of Ecological Restoration and the Mass. Div. of Fisheries and Wildlife.

So yes, this is indeed an end to something, and some might call it the end of an era – but the decommissioning of the Century Bog is also the beginning of something. It marks the winning back of a salter brook trout stream – and this event may help to spark a new era.