Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1970s and '80s, I fast learned that rivers were places to be avoided. All I knew of rivers were the city's Three Rivers -- the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio -- that moved through a landscape of dying steel mills. They flowed slowly, sometimes thickly, often smelled funny, and ran the color of chocolate milk all year long. I loved to fish and swim and doing either with any regularity in these waters never seemed like a good idea.
I was fortunate enough to do most of my fishing in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania where my extended family co-owned a cottage surrounded by a few ponds. There, my dad taught me how to hook and release sunfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass. In a series of decisions that would drive an economist nuts, I started using worms and bobbers and catching fish on every cast, graduated to artificial lures that hooked one fish for every hour of effort, and finally chose to pick up fly fishing in an evident zeal to ensure that I caught the fewest fish while expending the most effort possible. But numbers of fish caught isn't really the right yardstick for a successful day's fishing -- at least most of time. I simply loved being in, on, or near the water. When someone comes home from fishing and says, "it was just good to be out there," the odds are good it's code for "I got skunked." But, when I say it -- because I still often do -- I really mean it.
It wasn't until near the end of college on my first trip west of the Mississippi that I learned that all rivers didn't look like those I'd been used to growing up. All the pictures I'd seen in books of crystal-clear rivers where people caught colorful trout told me that these places existed, but they always seemed apart from the world I knew. I'm certain that nearly every rust-belt native can tell some version of this same story, but my first trip into the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado opened my eyes and mind to the fact that waters slicing through landscapes filled with majestic mountains, wide open sky, or deep forests didn't exist only in some other country or in some other time.
Those first few days in the West played no small part in solidifying a growing sense that graduate school for sociology was not the path for me. I found my way to Vermont Law School specifically to study environmental law, though I didn't have much of an idea what I'd do when I graduated. During a summer internship for American Wildlands in Bozeman, Montana, I first met and fell for (and sometimes in) the Gallatin, Yellowstone, Madison, and Beaverhead Rivers, and dozens of streams that flowed through the wilderness in and around Yellowstone National Park. I experienced the joys of fishing until mid-summer darkness, learning to look for grizzly bears and wolves at dawn and dusk in Slough Creek, and hiking to mountain lakes to get in a few casts before racing nightfall back to the car. On weekdays, I put to use what I'd learned so far in law school to fight the logging, water pollution, mining, and development that threatened my evening and weekend haunts.
With a hope that I'd find a job that would let me continue working to protect those places, I moved to Montana where, after volunteering for awhile, I was lucky enough to be hired on as an associate attorney in the Bozeman office of Earthjustice. There, I had the opportunity to work on two of the things that are closest to my heart: protecting fish and clean water.
After several wonderful years in Bozeman, I moved to Earthjustice's Northwest office to continue working on water and fish. Here I met and fell in love with (in chronological order) a new set of rivers and wildlands, my wife and daughter. For the past seven years, I've primarily worked on litigation that supports an ambitious effort to restore the world's once-largest runs of salmon and steelhead to the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The fight focuses on opening four federal dams on the lower Snake River that have turned a superhighway for salmon headed to and from Idaho spawning grounds into a series of deadly, warm, slack-water pools filled with predators.
Though our work at Earthjustice is subject to the pesky irony that its pace can keep us away from the places we try so hard to protect, I try to make sure that our family gets to experience time in places where, fishing or not, it's just good to be out there.
Steve Mashuda is a project attorney in the Northwest office. Mr. Mashuda joined Earthjustice's Bozeman office as an associate attorney in 1998, where he specialized in Clean Water Act, forestry and Endangered Species Act litigation. In 2000, he joined Earthjustice's Seattle office, where he is now focusing entirely on Columbia-Snake River salmon litigation for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.
Mr. Mashuda received his J.D. from Vermont Law School in 1997. Mr. Mashuda also holds a Master of Studies in Environmental Law from Vermont Law School and a B.A. in History/Sociology from the University of Dayton.