Robin Waples: University of Washington (NOAA Fisheries, retired)
Topic: On the shoulders of giants: Under-appreciated studies in salmon biology with lasting influence.
In 1675 Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
This idea epitomizes the way that science progresses by incremental steps, punctuated occasionally by major breakthroughs. But often it is the case that neither these ‘giants’ nor their research are well-known or even routinely recognized.
I discuss four such studies conducted in Oregon that have had a profound influence on scientific developments in salmon biology in subsequent decades:
1) a 1960s study of southern Oregon Chinook salmon that was the first documentation of what has come to be known as the Portfolio Effect;
2) a 1970s study of Deschutes River steelhead that was the first attempt to empirically evaluate genetic differences between hatchery and wild fish;
3) a 1980s study of family size variation in Oregon coho salmon that helped pave the way for entirely new lines of research; and
4) a 1980s report on age structure and relative fecundity for Oregon Coast Chinook salmon that provided crucial empirical data to help parameterize models of the rates of genetic drift and loss of genetic variability in Pacific salmon.
I attended the talk just to be in situ at this Hatfield Marine Sciences Center and see what this 76-year-old fellow had to say = Robert Snowden Waples, Jr., was born 18 January 1947 in Berkeley, California. He attended Palo Alto High School, where he excelled in swimming; he went on to Yale to major in American Studies and to swim, competing with the likes of future Olympians Don Schollander, John Nelson, and Mark Spitz.
He has been at the forefront of wild salmon (and now hatchery salmon) research. He has been cited more than 25,000 times, and he has plethora of articles, and he is credited with helping put ne teeth in the endangered species act for salmon wild species. That is, he and others worked on the varous genetic lines within species so they might get special categorization.
The ESA was set forth to bring a species to a status where it doesn’t need that endangered status. There are more than 50 percent of salmon species listed under the ESA.
The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fisheries has been and up and down situation. There are 20 to 30 different stocks of Coho salmo, and with sockeye, resilency, representation, and redundancy are key to keeping this ecological area sustainable, Robin states.
While the talk was dry, and there were no photos or videos, graphics from Madison Avenue, he did his talk hoping the audience there was keyed into learning what his top four articles influencing him and the science of salmon research. first article he cited — “Biocomplexity and Fisheries Sustainability” concerning fal lchinook salmon on the Sixes River, OR.
Crazy science, including the slow work looking at adult returns using interesting criteria — fast to the ocean once hatched in home stream; a little time in the estuary after hatching; a lot of time in the estuary; a lot of time in home tributaries; yearlings staying in fresh water for a year.
What helps with survivability. While the 2, 3 , 4 and 5 year returns included mostly those in the third group = a lot of time in the estuary before maturing and heading to sea. This was done in 1965, without Google, the internet and so many other tools.
THe next article on Robin’s top four list includes looking atshutes summer steelhead and the genetic differences in growth and survival of Juvenile Hatchery and Wild Steehead Trout, salmo gairdneri.
The question posed in the 1970s research includes: What if there were no hatchery fish? That is, what would that effect be on wild fish? They call that hatchery supplementation since so many wild stocks (more than 50 percet) are endangered, in peril.
The research Robin goes over gets even more deep in terms of genetics and determining the status of coho salmo from WA, OR, and CA. That one was published in 1995.
Lots of work on wild populations and reproductive isolation and life history traied — they can be adapted to local areas.
He cited Valley Creek, near the Sawtooth mountains, where the salmon move from the ocean 900 miles away up to around 6500 feet in elevation.
Of course, the questions from the audience include what about the effects of climate change on salmon community. Robin says there are tons of studies on how salmon sustainability will be changed by warming land and ocean areas. The southern range will have a more difficult time. The northern area will see salmon expansion as the ice receeds and the water gets warmer.
The big questions around what sort of evolutionary changes can help them keep up. These are called evolutionary rescues, but he says warming seas might be too quick for that rescuing to occur.
Reduction in forests and those stream imperilment really affects salmon. Non-point source pollution is huge. More people are changing the land, through urbanization and agriculture. Rainfall and impervious surfaces add pollution loads. Robin states that there is great support for salmon, and most recent polls show 70 to 80 percent people want to work with salmon mitigation and are willing to pay more for salmon and be taxed, as oppopsed to the spotted owl, with only gets 10 percent backing for massive tax increases to save them.
While Robin is not a fan of techno fixes, he is for more streamside tree planting for shading the homes of salmon to lower water temperatures. And making sure water from rainfall gets back into the system clean.
He notes that trout have been put everywhere around the world (trout being a cousin of salmon), and he notes that steelhead and chinook have been put into Patagonia rivers starting a hundred years ago. New Zealand has also introduced Pacific salmon there.
Here’s the talk,
I got to talk with Robin for a few minutes. We talked about his American Studies degree, and how he taught English at the University of Hawaii. And what got him into the sciences. We also mulled over why there is such a disconnect from his and his fellow scientists’ research and the average person including the fisher people who live here in our rural community fishing for rock fish, shrimp, crab, halibut, and other species.
And the issue tied to K12 students NEVER being at these events. And, alas, the problem of higher education pushing MBA programs and programs around coding and software application creation.
I introduced him to some of my work, with David James Duncan, with David Suzuki, and Tim Flannery and dozens of other groups, including Save Our Wild Salmon.
Interview with David James Duncan
PKH: Talk about writing, and young people trying to take a stab at writing as a career in a world of Flash videos and Internet messaging. We’ve got so much conglomeration of media – a majority of publishing houses in the USA owned by less than 10 corporations. And, the ungodly fact that the kids today in K-12 are averaging 10 minutes of outside reading a day. What can you say to aspiring young writers to stick it out?
DJD: To writers at the moment I would say, yes, it’s a struggle to keep our frail art form together, but hey, it’s a damned interesting time! Humanity is in the midst of a massive transition, so human communication is undergoing a transition. A tough-minded response to your question might be something like Robinson Jeffers’ line: “There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that cultures decay, and that life’s end is death.”
All human endeavor — including even our literature — is transitory. I’ve spent my life immersed in the myths, scriptures and bardic songs of the world — the best records of the best things human beings have said, sung and done for thousands of years. A little familiarity with this body of knowledge takes a lot of the stress out of living in a time of transition. The decline of literacy causes a lot of hand-wringing. But literacy is itself a recent human development — and a lamented development by the bards and singers of the oral cultures that preceded our literate one.
To learn to live with the earth on the earth’s own terms is more important to me than literacy. I lived on the Oregon Coast at a time when the most ancient Sitka spruce groves in the world were being converted daily into the L.A. Sunday Times. There was, in my view, nothing in the Times’ stories of that era that compared in beauty or import to the trees that were slaughtered to create the newspapers. The news those trees were emitting was something invisible, called oxygen. The news those trees published constantly was keeping the planet alive. We killed them in the name of literacy.
Paul: “A boat is more than an investigative tool,” Robert Kennedy said recently while on the Colorado, the threatened American icon. “It’s a reminder to the public that you own this waterway.” It’s pretty universal throughout civilization that there are laws of waterways stating that they belong to the people. Code of Justinian, Magna Carta, and constitution. Why have we allowed polluters, developers, and politicians to virtually destroy our connection to rivers and streams?
DJD: First off, I haven’t allowed any such thing, at least not directly. I’ve spent my life resisting polluters, developers and politicians who destroy waterways. And my connection to rivers and streams is a vivid part of my daily contemplative and recreational and economic life.
My downfall is as a consumer. The mistake the American people have made, from the very beginning, is to place faith and trust in an inhuman financial entity generally known as “the corporation.” Jefferson saw it coming. “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength.” We did not crush the moneyed corporations. We enthroned them. And corporations are not human. They don’t eat, drink, or breathe, hence have no particular allegiance to clean food, water or air. They possess no beating heart or soul, hence fear no God, and no punishment for misdeeds in any kind of Hereafter. Corporations contain humans the way a cult, a sedative, or a TV contain humans. They dominate, “monoculturize,” dehumanize, mesmerize and misinform us, and make us pay and thank them for it.
Corporate transformation, corporate disempowerment, corporate accountability, corporate humanization, corporate spiritualization, is the crucial (in)human topic of our time.
Paul: The essay you wrote on Washington State’s salmon rehabilitation projects was read by Congress. You wondered, tongue in cheek , whether Congress “still reads.” Talk about that specific essay’s effect on politicians – do they read?
DJD: My salmon essay to Congress was extremely friendly, actually. I was trying to create a little love for the most magnificent fishes that swim. The line you cite was an attempt to irritate the deadbeats into reading me long enough to realize that financial support of salmon recovery is a very good thing for the United States of America. I had a small, definite job to do: try to get salmon recovery funded. And it was funded. Insufficiently. But it’s a start!
Paul: “Censoring Science” is a new book out on the Bush Administration’s fascist attack on Dr. James Hansen’s work with NASA on climate change. Did you ever predict when you were a struggling young writer cutting lawns and looking for the perfect stretch of water from which to cast that you’d see this sort of crap happening in the 21st Century? Why, if so? Why not, if not?
DJD: I’ve been surprised from time to time by the American people’s eagerness to vote for ways to increase their own suffering and their children’s destitution and Mother Earth’s degradation. But I refuse to despair. Salmon are my totem creature and salmon don’t despair. They keep trying to return home to their mountain birthhouses and create a beautiful new generation no matter what kind of hellhole industrial man has made of their rivers. Mother Teresa spoke with the heart of a wild salmon when she said, “God doesn’t ask us to win. He only asks us to try.” I’m in the business of trying. I leave the scorecard to the Scorekeeper.
Paul: “The ‘environmental movement’ is a caterpillar in the process of being transformed into a much more beautiful butterfly. It’s time to let the e-word go and find a butterfly of a word.” You said this in an interview. We are now at the time when the climate is changing dramatically, because of all sorts of tipping points, including all the green house gas emissions humans are spewing; because snow packs are going, going, gone; glaciers are receding; the oceans are acidifying; the list goes on and on. If this isn’t the moment for the globe – unfortunately, the USA has to be part of the charge – to get its act together, what will it take?
DJD: The desire to save the world is too big for any of us. I’m less than three feet in circumference. The Earth is 25,000 miles in circumference! I can’t wrap my arms or head around my sweet Mama. So I don’t try.
Instead, I try to live the advice of Mother Teresa. “We can do no great things — only small things with great love.” When small things are done with great love, it is not a flawed you or me who does them: it’s just love. I have no faith in any kind of political party, left right or centrist. I have boundless faith in love. The only spiritually responsible way I know to be a citizen, artist or activist in times like ours is by doing a daily and nightly, faith-driven skein of small things, each of them done with all the love I can muster.
Paul: What is the role of the media – not just TV and movies – but the entire mess of media tools in bringing this ignorance and conspicuous consumption mentality into focus in 2008? We seem collectively stupid to not realize the value of retrofitting our country for rail travel; for mandatory carbon taxes on polluters; on developing a land ethic; re-energizing local economies; and bringing back wilderness; the salmon. Discuss your relationship with the media, with publishing, with the repetition of talks you give to various groups.
DJD: The key to ongoing hope, strength, and effectiveness, for me, is to think small. Not big! Small. Look at your hands. Right now. They’re not large. They can’t do much. But they can do something. Right now.
I trust my hands more than my mind. My hands are enlivened by my lungs and heartbeat and by the Earth and by Spirit directly. Only indirectly are they guided by the mind. My aging hands have done so much cool stuff it staggers my mind.
There is a fabulous story by Raymond Carver called “A Small Good Thing.” It’s like a scripture to me. In it, a baker who has been an asshole to some customers who failed to collect a birthday cake, finds out that the reason the couple didn’t pick up the cake was that their child had been killed. At the climax, the couple goes to see the baker, wanting to kill him in return. Instead, he serves them fresh cinnamon rolls and hot coffee with his two small hands, and he joins them, and they talk. He admits he’s a fool. He admits he’s made many mistakes in his life, but none bigger than harassing them in their time of loss. Yet he’s certain that the cinnamon rolls and the coffee, in this time of grief, are what he calls “a small good thing.” This story makes me bawl like a baby. It’s so simple and beautiful and true. It also makes me crave cinnamon rolls every time somebody I love dies.
The daily doing of “small good things” — with one’s own two hands — transforms the doer. Transforms consciousness. Opens the heart. Sharpens the mind and senses. Too much media does the opposite. Too much “news” especially. I feel a vibrant energy and keen focus in solitude and silence. This beautiful energy gets lost when I tune in the smoke and mirrors being manufactured all day by centers of media and political power. When those glorious Sitka Spruce groves died to create L.A. Times “news stories” and ads and info-crap, it taught me something. No one on earth remembered any of that printed crap a month later. But the stumps of those glorious trees, and the voices of the kids who played in them, are still there, and they still haunt me.
When I’m haunted I try to put it to use. Instead of gathering media information by the ton, I spend a lot of time shedding such information, tuning in a mysterious internal spark instead. This spark may or may not “change the world.” But I’ve seen it galvanize mere information and pierce the world, again and again. When light shines out in darkness, the matter of this world is pierced so deftly and completely that I’m left with an almost physical certainty that matter is just spirit in a denser form. This moves me deeply. And so energizes me, giving me new life and courage, again and again. The conversion of matter into spirit, of ignorance into awareness, or hate into love, is the grand purpose of human life, according to my bibles. So I don’t try to “make news in the world” or “save the world.” I try, all day every day, to be true to a mysterious light that pierces the world.
Paul: Salmon embody such a huge cultural, spiritual, and historical significance to this part of the world. What is it going to take to remove those four lower Snake River dams?
DJD: The conversion of matter into spirit, ignorance into awareness, and hate into love, will remove the dams. I don’t know when, but I feel it will happen. Five thousand five hundred miles of fertile salmon streams are being given a hysterectomy. The removal of those four dams is the largest workable ocean-fish restoration project possible on the planet — in a time when we’ve lost 90% of the ocean’s fisheries.
My wheat farming friends who now oppose the dams are living examples of the conversion of ignorance into awareness and matter into spirit. My desire that their wheat-barging and irrigation systems be cost-effectively replaced by railroads and pumps is an example of the same. Farmers and fishers are brothers and sisters now. That’s as it should be. As it once was. It’s right out of the gospels, actually. And tthe outcry of the nation’s chefs also heartens us. “Loaves and Fishes” should be served to the world by our region forever.
We’ve bridged a rhetorical abyss created by cynics like Slade Gorton and Larry Craig and the BPA that greases their palms. We’ve jettisoned a lot of hate and ignorance. We just breached a dam in Missoula, Montana, and it’s been a cause for huge celebration by every kind of cowboy and Indian and realtor and Rotary Club member you can imagine. The upper Clark Fork River fishes and farms better by the day. Five-thousand five-hundred miles of streams await the same treatment near here.
Paul: You love rivers, writing, the fabric of cultures, the language of clouds and shadows and your own sense of humanity in nature. What message will you give people coming to your two appearances in Spokane? What sense of hope? In these times of destroying cropland for growing corn and wheat for ethanol? A time when destroying ecosystems like rainforests in Indonesia to fuel the Danes’ and other Nordics’ desire to get off OPEC and fossil fuel by investing in energy from palm trees makes sense to people? Help center some positive message for us, David, from all of this.
DJD: The whole time I’ve been answering your questions a spring snow has been falling out my window and a billion aspen and cottonwood leaves are budding, and bluebirds are arriving from Central America, and the hummingbirds and ospreys aren’t far behind, and wild turkeys and killdeer and meadowlarks and Canada geese are calling and mating, and rainbow and cutthroat trout are running up the creeks for the spawn, and opportunistic brown trout are following to eat the eggs that don’t settle in the redds, and the first buttercups are blooming, and the elk and Black Angus and sheep are all calving, and our horse Bonnie is growing a foal. And the ten heroic elementary school teachers who helped my daughters transform from illiterate five-year-olds into beautiful intelligent young women are helping other kids do the same down the road at Lolo School. And in your town and mine amid all the business and ruckus and “news,” people are smiling at each other even when they’re not paid to smile, and going out of their way to help each other when there’s no money in that either. The other day I watched a skinny white-haired trucker block an entire freeway with his semi to protect a woman who’d fallen asleep at the wheel and crossed a meridian and smashed into a guardrail right in front of him. He risked his life, though her stunt had threatened his life, to safeguard her. He leapt from his cab and ran, his shock of white hair brighter than the falling snow, to help this perfect stranger. Did he make the news? No. Yet people are constantly living and loving and serving in ways that make no “news.” So I tend to defy that corporate product. “If it bleeds it leads?” How cynical can you get?
If it evinces love and kindness, let it lead your story-telling and thanksgiving. If it’s a gift from Earth to you, let it lead you like headlights on a dark night. Bluebirds and kindergarten teachers and heroic truck drivers are news. There are no smoke and mirrors in the soul’s realm. Your hands can serve the soul’s realm. Look at your two hands and figure out some simple way to serve. Offer help on a highway. Play somebody a good tune. Teach a kid to play a tune. Knit somebody a scarf. Make it bluebird blue.
Paul: Today (March 31) is Cesar Chavez Day. You consider him one of dozens of heroes. What is it about him — or any man or woman that you deem a hero — that strikes you as most important about them?
DJD: I’ve had a Trappist monk friend for forty years, Brother Martin (a Chicano monk, recruited to contemplative life from a baseball field!) who tells me every time I see him, “Cesar Chavez was the most Christ-like man I’ve ever met.” Why? You’d have to be in the presence to see “Christlikeness,” I reckon, and I never met Chavez. But I know from those who knew him that h practiced small-scale compassion activism. And that he lived for and served others for the simplest and best of reasons: he sincerely loved those others. I know he knew those he served intimately. Knew their pain and suffering and shared it intimately. Yet he didn’t demonize those who caused this suffering. His life of love and service is the opposite of a World Bank project or a papal decree or a government program. It was grass roots love. Love from the ground up, not the top down. Love with the mud of the fields all over it.
The “most important thing” about such heroes? Chavez’s respect for other migrant laborers and for himself was grounded in his sense that Christ Himself lived within each of them — that the kingdom of heaven truly was within them. Not up in the sky. Not in Rome. The kingdom and God and angels were right there in the fields of California. Why does this belief strike me as crucial? Because when you live and breathe in the daily understanding that the people working your fields each have the kingdom of heaven within them, and that God and the angels are out there working with them, you don’t spray those people with insecticides and pesticides and cheat them out of a livable wage. On the contrary, you revere them. Like Cesar Chavez did.
David James Duncan will be in Spokane April 15 and 16. Noon at the Spokane Club, April 15. Contact Sam Mace with Save Our Wild Salmon for information on this luncheon – firstname.lastname@example.org. April 16 at Spokane Community College, Lair Auditorium. 7:30 as part of Get Lit. Free and open to the public.
Contact Sam Mace here in Spokane with Save Our Wild Salmon for a high resolution copy of a really great image that might help illustrate my story on DJD.
Here, an old one, 2005:
Flat-Earther Bush’s Style for Wild Salmon (Part III of III)
Saving Salmon, Saving Grace — Busting Dams
August 31, 2005
“[T]hese Falls, which have fallen further, which sit dry
and quiet as a graveyard now? These Falls are that place
where ghosts of salmon jump, where ghosts of women mourn
their children who will never find their way back home…”
— Sherman Alexie, from “The Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump”
One of the greatest contrasts for area residents is how the river Spokane is so powerfully sculpted by nature yet so disembodied from its recent past. The Children of the Sun tribe less than 70 years ago made great snatches of Chinook and Coho near where the Maple Street Bridge funnels SUVs and trucks in an endless stream of belching metal.
Sherman Alexie, best known for Smoke Signals and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, and a member of the Spokane tribe, does more than lament the loss of the salmon runs. He is confrontational and “in the face” of corporate and political forces that deem salmon as “a fish of diminishing value.”
For Alexie and Spokane tribal elder Pauline Flett, and for groups like Salmon for All and Save Our Wild Salmon, it’s a no-brainer to bring back the clear waters and an abundance of native fish to a river like the Spokane and a river system like the Columbia/Snake.
For some Northwest salmon people, such as Grey Owl, a Southern Cheyenne artist and cultural guide living on the Nez Perce reservation, river and subsequent fish contamination means early, hard deaths.
“Even supposing that we exclude some nefarious government plot to study them,” Grey Owl said, “it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the government was not as careful in the ‘60s about what Hanford released, including radioactive water used to cool the reaction, into the Columbia. Just in our small little Native community here, all salmon people, there is a high incidence of cancers, tumors, and unexplained cysts.”
For salmon and salmon people — including various Inland West and Pacific Coast tribes and non-tribal commercial and recreational fishermen — they recognize three pivotal river systems that incubate and release salmon into the Pacific for the world to enjoy. The Sacramento, Yukon and Columbia/Snake systems are the genetic conveyor belts of wild salmon. For many, these river systems must be unleashed, free of mining and agricultural bleed-offs, and set in riparian and forest cover where clear-cutting is a long-vanished 1900s technology.
More than 45 local, regional and state organizations make up a coalition supporting breaching four dams on the lower Snake River: Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite.
Groups like Friends of the Earth, Trout Unlimited, Northwest Sportfishing Industries Association, American Rivers, NW Energy Coalition, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Washington Trollers Association make up a cadre of lobbying, informational and advocacy groups poised to support bringing down the four dams.
Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS), as part of the coalition’s main group pushing dam removal, focuses specifically on restoring salmon in the Snake River. Kell McAboy, three years in the trenches as Eastern Washington organizer for SOS in Spokane, has been a vocal public protector of the Snake River and its salmon.
“When thinking about removing the four dams in the lower Snake River, not only is it the best bet for the salmon, it’s the best bet for people. There are more than 200 dams in the Columbia Basin, making it the most constipated watershed on earth.”
The main issues McAboy and others in the coalition see as their stumbling blocks are transportation, farmers and the mythology of having an inland seaport at Lewiston, 900 miles upstream from the Pacific Ocean.
“The issue comes down to transportation,” McAboy says. She noted that rail and eighteen-wheeler transportation links can be revitalized in order to move the wheat and other goods the current barges on the dammed Snake provide.
As part of her duties with SOS, McAboy has organized tours of the Snake River, the four dams and free-flowing rivers like the Clearwater and Salmon. Her organization and the coalition at large are connected to a non-profit group, LightHawk, which has planes and pilots at the ready to take people into the air so they might see the environmental impact of dammed rivers from aloft.
“From the air, the people get a unique perspective of how a free-flowing river and the impounded river look like,” McAboy said.
It’s clear when one starts looking at this “to breach or not to breach” debate that there is a definite dichotomy between east and west Washington. Most people for breaching have zip codes set west of the Cascades, while those opposed are from the Inland Northwest.
One strategy Jill Wasberg from SOS in Seattle sees as a way to put flesh and bone on those everyday people who have lost livelihoods and cultural connections because of the death of the natural, large salmon runs, is to foster a sense of story — a narrative lynchpin so the pro-dam breaching stakeholders in this “Save Our Dams” versus “Save Our Salmon” gain voice.
She and others in SOS — with offices in Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Spokane — are interviewing people for a video and publication venture called “The Stories Project.” Wasberg hopes to capture the history, cultural identity and economic value.
Bill Kelley, professor in Eastern Washington University’s Urban and Regional Planning Program, promotes an on-going dialogue “about what constitutes community.” Kelley stresses that a definition of ecology — including river and salmon recovery — should include a “place for humans [and] their needs and desires in balance with ecological capacities.”
“I worry that when our passionate advocacy is too shrill and when our science and comprehensive planning, with all of its complexity, can’t be illustrated in simple and compelling and human terms,” Kelley said, “that we turn off our citizens when we most need to be turning them on.”
As EWU professor, Kelley coordinates undergraduate and graduate students in projects with various communities and constituencies to help them decide how their rural and undeveloped land and their urban space can give them a sense of stewardship and self-determination.
More than 85 rapids and falls will reappear on the Snake River if the dams are removed, McAboy notes. This will result in thrusting volumes of water and no more fattened impounded pools where salmon face nigh nitrogen loads, bacteria and viruses, longer journeys back to the Pacific estuaries, and unnaturally warm waters. Cold, fast-flowing water will push salmon smolt out to sea as nature designed.
Many biologists see breaching and habitat recovery as the only credible salvation to regenerating wild salmon stocks to numbers where sustainability occurs. If breaching is finally approved as the best, most prudent and eventually the most economically sane solution, the four main barriers will be gone, allowing 140 miles of the main stem of the Snake to open up.
This in turn will free hundreds of miles of tributaries in Eastern Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Wyoming for salmon to return full of sperm and roe to breed hundreds of millions of fry that will live and die, leaving millions to transmogrify into river-loving fry and estuary-seeking smolt. Most salmon return to and live in oceans, either close to shore or thousands of miles out to sea, for two to seven years before the evolutionary switch clicks on to return to their gravel beds.
Dave Johnson is a passionate fisheries scientist with the Nez Perce tribe who works to refine and harmonize a dozen tribal hatcheries as a way of supplementing the wild salmon that have been cut off since the Snake River dams came on line in the 1960s and ‘70s. For Johnson, his tribe and others have “a right to fish in all those streams.”
There seems to be a card up the sleeve of various Northwest tribes, including the Nez Perce. “The Nez Perce are not just some historical artifact,” said David Cummings, Nez Perce legal counsel. Cummings notes that the courts system is just one of several tools; yet treaties signed 1855 and 1856 with tribes of the Washington Coast, Puget Sound and Columbia River stated that while tribes ceded most of their land (1.34 million acres compared to the current 750,000 for just the Nez Perce tribe, as an example), those treaties gave exclusive rights to fish within their reservations and rights to fish at “all usual and accustomed places . . . in common with citizens.”
For Cummings, the 1974 “Boldt Decision” reaffirming tribal rights to 50 percent of the harvestable fish “destined for tribal usual and accustomed fishing grounds” is sort of a cultural and environmental ace in the hole.
Cummings notes that the treaty carries with it a right to restoration of wildlife, including the riverine ecosystem and water quality.
There is a genetic, dietary, and cultural connection to salmon and sustainable harvests. Johnson is one of more than 200 scientists who advocate breaching the four lower Snake dams.
Pacific Northwest salmon for a million years have struggled to recreate their genes by leaving salt water to go upstream. By the millions, wild Coho, Chinook, sockeye, pink, chum, King and others had returned in their respective fall, summer and spring runs. The wild salmon of the Columbia drove their fasting bodies through scablands, falls, and heat to return to their birthing riffles more than 900 miles inland from the Pacific to Eastern Washington and Oregon and deep into Idaho and Wyoming.
That was before the eight federal dams that are the gauntlet stopping the Inland West’s salmon from spawning.
The parallel struggle of overcoming obstacles — now dams — that anadromous fish and the tribes of the Northwest share is telling.
For 10,000 years, Indian tribes rendezvoused at the lower Columbia River’s Celilo Falls. Traders from as far away as Central America gathered with thousands of others from dozens of tribes.
Fast-forward a few thousand years to the Lewis and Clark Expedition as Clark comments on the hundreds of thousands of salmon they came across: “The multitude of this fish. The water is so clear that they can readily be seen at a depth of 115 or 120 feet. But at this season they float in such quantities down the stream the Indians have only to collect, split and dry them on the scaffolds.”
The Dalles dam in 1956 impounded the river, mucked up the cascades and free-flowing nature of things, and inundated the sacred Celilo Falls.
The four lower Columbia dams have been technologically manipulated to allow for safer passage of salmon running to the spawning beds and to allow the smolts to be flushed more safely to sea. The process for the lower Snake River dams, however, is more daunting and less technologically successful.
Most of this country’s 75,000 dams were pounded, cemented and erected into the paths of ancient free-flowing rivers before humans, especially at the political level, saw the big picture of negative biological, cultural and economic impacts of this river-jamming technology, notes Lizzie Grossman, author of the book, Watershed: The Undamming of America.
Grossman read from her just published book at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane on July 29, emphasizing how “in the past ten years people all over the country have been looking at waterways — how their local creek or river was ignored and abused.” There is a strong sense of wanting the rivers back, including breaching dams.
“America has spent most of its first two centuries turning its rivers into highways, ditches and power plants,” Grossman states. “Now, slowly, we are relearning what a river is and how to live with one. . . . Reconsidering the use of our rivers means examining our priorities as a nation. It forces us to rethink our patterns of consumption and growth and may well be the key to reclaiming a vital part of America’s future.”
“A dam can disrupt a river’s entire ecosystem, affecting everything from headwaters to delta,” Grossman puts into her book’s Forward. “So removing a dam, large or small, is not an easy process. . . . Dam removal alters the visual contours of a community. It is a very public enterprise and is almost always controversial, involving political decisions and civic debate.”
A hodgepodge of liberal environmental and politically conservative groups is pushing to gain political support for the Salmon Planning Act, which states that dam breaching is an option if all other routes to wild salmon species and habitat recovery fail to generate sustainable, healthy levels.
The executive director of Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Liz Hamilton, sees dam breaching from a died-in-the-wool capitalist point of view. Her own Republican Party roots and her membership’s conservative bent belie a dynamic most people do not associate with endangered species causes.
“Our industry lost 10,000 jobs in the northwest,” she noted as a consequence of the construction of the eight dams. “Fear mongers have led this issue: ‘If we don’t breach, every single salmon will die.’ On the other side, we’ve heard, ‘If we do breach, we will lose our jobs and way of life.’”
Hamilton sees her group and the coalition’s biggest challenge to convince people of the economic and cultural benefits of breaching dams as psychological. “People fear change. People have to see a future. If they don’t see themselves in it, your average citizen will not respond.”
Hamilton knows salmon restoration is costly. But she sees the Snake River system as a thousand miles of nearly pristine spawning habitat. Hamilton and her coalition lobby people to see a future many resist: removal of the four Snake River dams. “Without the dams we can still transport wheat. We can still generate electricity. We can still irrigate crops. The pressures that people put on the land will still be there when the dams are removed. . . . The cheapest thing to do is unblock a blocked culvert.”
The General Accounting Office reported that more than $3.3 billion in taxpayers’ money was spent by more than a dozen agencies the past 20 years to try and mitigate declines in Columbia River basin salmon runs. On top of that, tens-of-millions have also been spent by state and local governments.
This waste of money has paid for ill-conceived measures and technologies to try and help the fish survive the dams — 34 years of barging fish around dams. Snake River sockeye, Chinook salmon and steelhead were granted “protection” in 1991, ’92, and ’97 respectively through the Endangered Species Act.
Hatcheries have produced more than 90 percent of 2001 salmon and steelhead. Hatchery salmon are not the goal for the diverse environmental and scientific communities because of various issues, including disease, weak genetic lines, and stifling of biodiversity in its natural state. If wild salmon are not rejuvenated, many predict that by 2017 several indigenous populations will become extinct.
Additionally, RAND, a conservative “think tank,” completed a report in September 2002 that posits dam removal on the lower Snake will not bring with it economic turmoil. In fact, the RAND report shows how 10,000 long-term jobs might very well be created and centered right in the economically hard-hit communities that make up the Inland Empire.
Remove dams and help create livable wage jobs and revive a weak Inland Empire economy while preserving sustainable and abundant salmon? The answer seems obvious to most, but for those who resist, there is the 1855 treaty and Boldt decision which cost U.S. taxpayers upwards of $10 to $60 billion paid to the tribes for destroying their salmon and habitat.
“The salmon are our relatives,” Grey Owl said. “The salmon are of this land just as we are. We both share a connection to this land that is hardwired into our DNA. They teach us many spiritual lessons such as the circle of life, giving of yourself to help others, and that our life’s purpose should be to help someone else live.”
Note: Paul K. Haeder teaches college at Spokane Falls Community College and other places. He is a former daily newspaper journalist in Arizona and Texas, whose independent work has appeared in many publications. As a book reviewer for the El Paso Times, many of his reviews appeared in other Gannett newspapers.
A Tribe Once Called “Power from the Brain” by Paul K. Haeder, Dissedent Voice, June 17, 2014
A Tribe Once Called “Power from the Brain”
How’d you end up in the Inbred Northwest. . . What act of fate dragged your Texas butt up here. . . You exchanged West Texas, Cormac McCarthy, real Tex-Mex food and sun for this? Or some variation on that theme greeted me when I first bivouacked in Spokane after heading to El Norte from “I fought the law but the law won” Bobby Fuller El Paso, Texas.
It was a hell of a Salmonidae journey, hitching my adult body and soul to the Pacific Northwest in the form of the Inland Empire, Spokane — “largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis,” they kept telling me. My olfactory memory burst with narrative skills by traveling the region as reporter, educator and environmental activist. Man, the work I did on writing about removing those four lower Snake River dams. Pieces on sustainable agriculture in Washington. Stories on the power of storytelling in this region of Earth.
This place is full of river-teeth; the place of Ice Age Floods’ erratic boulders dropped 12,000 years ago from ice rafts in the middle of the Willamette Valley; the ramming tectonics and ring of fire. Luckily for me, writers like Rick Bass, Lizzie Grossman, David James Duncan and so many others kept me busy as a desert salmon looking for some home stream back to the Pacific.
I left Sonora and then Chihuahua for Inland Salish land, where 24 distinct languages once ruled.
NpoqÃniscn, or Spokane. For thousands of years the Inland Salish people here built permanent villages along these powerful rivers in order to connect to their lifeblood and make benedictions to brother-sister salmon. Over three million acres made up their distinct territory, and later other Indians introduced them to horses and plank houses.
It’s a place that encompasses a kind of hope trapped in the way the sun hits water through a stand of cedars and towering Douglas firs. “Sun People” Spokane is translated as, though I’ve talked to a few Spokane scholars who say it’s more closely, “the color of the sun reflecting through the water on a salmon’s back.”
That story dredging is what makes a place, place. The legend about my new home is even more poetic: “There was once a hollow tree. When an Indian beat upon it, a serpent living inside made a noise which sounded like spukcane, a phonetic sound without meaning in the tribe’s language. So, one day, as the tribe’s chief thought about those sounds, these vibrations reverberated from his head. Spukcane then blossomed to mean, ‘Power from the brain.'”
Even a thousand years ago marketing rued the day — Spukanee is what they ended up calling themselves. Children of the Sun.
One of my trips deeper into the spiritual and intellectual fabric of this place (new to me starting May, 2001) was with a contemporary Caucasian writer — David James Duncan. We were talking about dam breeching, slack water rivers, President Bush, war, salmon recovery, and writing. That was April 2008:
I’ve been surprised from time to time by the American people’s eagerness to vote for ways to increase their own suffering and their children’s destitution and Mother Earth’s degradation. But I refuse to despair. Salmon are my totem creature and salmon don’t despair. They keep trying to return home to their mountain birth houses and create a beautiful new generation no matter what kind of hellhole industrial man has made of their rivers. Mother Teresa spoke with the heart of a wild salmon when she said, ‘God doesn’t ask us to win. He only asks us to try.’ I’m in the business of trying. I leave the scorecard to the Scorekeeper.
That journey for me, those tallies by the proverbial Scorekeeper as Duncan frames it, is tied to salmon, as the corpuscles of that species have been in my bloodline for centuries. The blood of Celts and of Scots. Why not? The word “salmon” is from Old French: salmonem, salmo, maybe even from salire.
Salire — to leap.
My mother was born and raised in British Columbia, Powell River. The stench of the largest pulp mill in the world at that time was rotting the alveoli of her lungs and hundreds of others’ respiratory tracks, eventually resulting in emphysema, or what is referred to as COPD.
I remember from one stay there how I noticed a line of cars at the town’s free car washes when the day shift switched to night shift. Acid releases, ash snows, rotten egg winds, and automobile paint flaking.
Both her parents were from Ireland and Scotland ending up on the Sunshine Coast. Some call it Sechelt (shishalh) First Nation land, again, Salish (coastal).
I remember pulling in Coho and King salmon, huge ones in the 1960s. In fact, one that I hooked was close to my eight-year-old’s size, at seventy-five pounds. My Uncle Ted (not by blood, but my grandparents’ friend and boarder) had to take over for me, pulling on the rod with his tobacco-stained hands. His own tired lungs wheezed and rattled while he wrestled the magnificent muscular Chinook close to the gunnels while directing me to gaff it.
Here I was, on this boat along this dark-dark forested coast, with Uncle Ted, friend of my Irish-Scottish grandparents. Son of a chief, from the Sliammon Reserve, 20 miles north of Powell River.
That deep red heart and liver were still connected after Ted gutted it quickly — after some word in his native language he exhorted while proceeding to smash the salmon’s head. He put the heart and liver into an old bucket, the one we used to piss in. As I watched the rhythm of that seven-year-old fish’s power train still pulsating with life in salt water, after being eviscerated, dog fish sharks surfaced near us and gulls dive-bombed our foredeck. Just along the beach a mother and her two cubs paraded around that brown bear way, scenting our kill.
That was almost five decades ago.
Strawberries, spuds and these Douglas firs that stayed with me as shapes long after any J. R.R. Tolkien dreams.
Olfactory memory. I recall those smells on a dive boat off Honduras. I remember the taste of Sockeye blood when I was snorkeling off the Baja peninsula into the thrashing sailfish that was in the grips of a 12-foot hammerhead’s jaw.
Once in Vietnam, along the Laos border, in a bat cave with British and Vietnamese scientists, I tasted that Sechelt cedar fire when Uncle Ted took me and my sister to the “reservation” for a potlatch. Dried smoked salmon was on my deja vu mind in 2006 when I was with Nez Perce friends digging camas in a field near Lolo Pass, Idaho.
It’s cliche but apropos to think some of us are shaped by anadromous destinies, like the salmon, biologically programmed millions of years ago by small but mostly large geologic transformations, and the ice barriers, leaking rivers and creeks caused by melting ice. What got salmon going was the changing nature of the oceans cooling some 30 million years ago.
Theories abound, but the prevailing science says they started out as freshwater fish. Moved to the cold Pacific where nutrient rich waters attracted their ancestors.
That destiny to move, to follow some ancient walkabout song or subsonic calling, it’s been an arousing part of my life. I was born on the ocean — San Pedro, California — and then moved as an infant to the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia.
We moved like migrating salmon, hitching our lives to the tether of my old man’s military profession. I ended up teething on the island of Terceira, part of the Azores, Portugal, about 1,600 km west from Lisbon and 3,680 km east from New York City.
Fish, bread, saints and milagros. Miracles. And stories of fishermen hitting the open waters with poveiro boats launched from the Port of PÃ³voa de Varzim. Thirty oarsmen making it all the way to Newfoundland. Cod, sardine, ray, mackerel, whiskered sole, snook, whiting, alfonsino and salmon.
Also, tuna, migratory and strong. They’ve been recorded by modern biology traveling some 5,000 miles in 50 days. Albacora these fishermen call them.
Piano wires, hooks and barracuda brought up from the depths. I ate their flesh around beach fires, using colorful upturned boats as barriers from the whipping winds. These fishers talked of sperm whale hunts and monsters from the depths west in the Puerto Rico trench.
A uma profundidade de cinco milha, oito quilometros. More than 26,400 feet down.
Later in college, while working as a dive master in the Sea of Cortez, I was boning up for the History of Hispania course I was taking at the University of Arizona. I read about a 1755 earthquake in an undersea “fracture zone-subduction zone” off Portugal — near the Azores. It generated a giant tsunami that went both directions, as far as Caribbean islands. It killed more than 100,000 people and destroyed the city of Lisbon. It sapped Portugal as a going concern — European power — impacting in grand scale not only the religious thinking of the time but philosophical constructs.
Salmyo, Portuguese for salmon. Some of those old salty dogs talked about fishing a river along the Spanish border — Rio Mino — for salmon.
For me, Pacific salmon, a calling in Salish. Words whispered by the prince and his salmon people, lured me away from that walkabout. We ended up as a family moving to Paris, France, and then Munich and Edinburgh. We harbored in Arizona, where I became, of all things, a dive master. Then, Mexico, Central America, Belize. West Texas, New Mexico.
That home stream, that electromagnetic pull, got me to Spokane. I ended up working on a study guide for six through eight graders for Claire Rudolph Murphy’s Tsimshian tale, The Prince and the Salmon People.
I am here, in Vancouver, having traveled from Seattle via Spokane. I just finished work on two magazine pieces around the 70th Anniversary of Hanford, the Manhattan Project, also couched as the A-bomb. That was 2013. My pieces were on downwinders — those people throughout Washington, Idaho, Montana, California and Oregon hit with bursts or radioactive iodine 131. Secret government experiments during the cold war. Millions of gallons of radioactive waste in tanks buried along the Columbia.
The iodine 131 came with the winds and settled into feed, hay. The milk runs to Spokane from Pasco carried the radionuclide with them.
Stories of three-eyed salmon. Sheep born with two heads. My Nez Perce and Yakima Indian friends speak about young girls with cancers. Diseased thyroids for people in their twenties. Aches, pains, stomach ailments, early deaths. Stories of the Pacific Northwest, really, as those waters around Hanford leech into the mighty Columbia as it makes it way to the Pacific.
Salmon made me a storyteller. I have a sockeye tattooed on my right calf muscle. I listen to those sidebar stories. I listen to writers born in the Pacific Northwest. Born to tell the story of their own returned journey.
It’s a story etched in fossils a hundred million years old. Over and over, the stories, yet what is literacy unless we embrace the knowledge that rivers and streams have to be clean, unimpeded, free-flowing, and cold in order to harbor life, to make the salmon. To make warm-blooded storytellers.
David James Duncan:
To learn to live with the earth on the earth’s own terms is more important to me than literacy. I lived on the Oregon Coast at a time when the most ancient Sitka spruce groves in the world were being converted daily into the LA Sunday Times. There was, in my view, nothing in the Times’ stories of that era that compared in beauty or import to the trees that were slaughtered to create the newspapers. The news those trees were emitting was something invisible, called oxygen. The news those trees published constantly was keeping the planet alive. We killed them in the name of literacy.
The Prince and the Salmon People Study Guide, Developed by Paul Haeder and Claire Rudolf Murphy
2 thoughts on “How Far Do We Go to Save a Species? Salmon Talk!”
“Live with the earth, on earth’s terms.”
“A Small Good Thing.”
Bout covers it all.
The solution to………everything?
And earth is a complicated planet with Homo Sapiens on it, many of whom are takers, versus leavers.
“The world of the Takers is one vast prison, and except for a handful of Leavers scattered across the world, the entire human race is now inside that prison.”
“No one species shall make the life of the world its own.’ … That’s one expression of the law. Here’s another: ‘The world was not made for any one species.”
“You’re captives of a civilizational system that more or less compels you to go on destroying the world in order to live… I think there are many among you who would be glad to release the world from captivity… This is what prevents them: They’re unable to find the bars of the cage.”
― Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit