PUBLISHED:  US National Whitewater Center’s EXPLORE, edition 6  2016


photo A. Andis / Nunatak Design

Read the full text and see Andis’ images here.

[…] Up north, the water is heavy with sediment and it scours my ever-numb hands. Swimming black bears have pawed at the bow of my boat. Chinook salmon shimmer as they leap, attaining the impossible, always moving upstream. Down there, on the equator, there are butterflies and ancient languages and feral forest voices I’ll never be able to identify.

Why does a far-away river matter so much?

Perhaps it’s because we’re taught as kids that the Amazon is our planet’s lungs, and when we see that forest burn, we raise our palms to our own chests; maybe we breathe a little deeper. Maybe it’s because the rainforest is so vastly different from the boreal forest and tundra I grew up on and I can’t bear to see either of them go. […]


PUBLISHED: Canoe & Kayak Magazine 2016

Read the full text, view Mike McKay’s video, and see West Howland’s images here.

A week prior to Ecuador’s recent second annual Jondachi Fest, January 15-17, local paddlers organized a downstream kayak race on the Quijos River near the mountain town of Baeza. As the Quijos Valley witnesses the influx and exodus of dam workers and power-line builders from around the world, the Quijos River still rushes over spectacular San Rafael Falls, the country’s largest waterfall. San Rafael Falls will be dewatered if the turbines in the massive Coca-Codo Sinclair hydro project ever start to spin.

After the Quijos festival, some paddlers moved north toward Colombia’s grassroots Samana Fest, some stayed on in Baeza, and others headed farther east and south toward Tena, the jungle home of the iconic Jondachi River. The Jondachi is still threatened by two small-scale hydro projects, but thus far the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute’s innovative three-pronged conservation strategy appears to be working. Jondachi Fest represents the ‘community outreach’ facet of the strategy: Bring paddlers and community members together to demonstrate the undeniable economic, ecological, and cultural value of the pristine and popular free-flowing river. […]

ECUADOR’S JONDACHI RIVER: Threatened Paddling Classics

PUBLISHED: Canoe & Kayak Magazine 2015


photo A. Andis / Nunatak Design

Read the full text and see Andis’ images here.

[…] I lived in Ecuador for only that one year, and I was busy teaching at a university in the Andean highlands. In my free time I would travel to the jungle town of Tena to go kayaking on the waters that tumble playfully from the Andes to the Amazon Basin. In the four years that have passed since my tenure in Ecuador, a lot has happened to those same rivers: myriad hydroelectric dams, rampant illegal gravel and gold mining, unprecedented deforestation in riparian zones, devastating contamination from oil exploration…the list goes on. And to top it off, a new 18 mega-watt dam, La Merced de Jondachi, has been proposed on the Upper Jondachi River.

Sometime in 2010, I was asked by a local guide outfit to work as a safety boater on a Class III trip, the Jatunyacu River. (It should be noted that I am not, in any way, a superlative kayaker. I laughed when they first asked me. But then I did it anyway. It’s Ecuador — why not?) The thirteen year-old younger brother of my raft guide friend was kayaking along with the trip. He was just learning, and he swam every time he tipped over, which was often. […]



PUBLISHED:  Alaska Dispatch News 2014

Read the entire opinion piece here.

[…] In today’s world, the notions of industrial innovation and forward progress no longer necessarily imply expansion, development, and enthusiastic construction. With regard to large-scale hydroelectric projects in particular, innovation has come to be deeply associated with the process of deconstruction. Great American rivers are being set free, after years or decades of constructed impediment and forced stagnation. Parameters of what defines our society’s progress in the realm of energy production are being reevaluated — a dynamic reassessment of environmental, cultural, and economic priorities illuminated by an evolving collective political and social consciousness.

The Susitna-Watana Hydro Project is antithetical to this evolution. Construction of mega-dams is an outdated practice, a remnant of an archaic model of overly ambitious industrialist schemes to tame wild rivers in the name of economic progress. Glenn Canyon, Hoover, Grand Coulee and other such dams are leviathan relics of an admittedly impressive technology that no longer reflects the capacity of our society’s potential for innovation, our capacity to consider all elements of the whole when making legislative decisions about how we will utilize or alter a system. […]