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A place of refuge for our salmon
This is great news (News-Times, Aug. 22, “Salmon benefit as saltwater reclaims old Dutch farmland”) but the story left me unsatisfied. It’s about salmon, but the chance to tell the story of the salmon was mostly missed. Salmon are the vital lifeblood of wildlife and ecosystem health in the Pacific Northwest. After years at sea growing to maturity salmon smell their rivers of origin from the open ocean to find their way upstream to spawn new generations, and then die there.
Salmon carcasses bring nutrients from ocean depths to mountain habitats, serving up food and crucial minerals to over a hundred species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians along with insects that supply their own smolts, while fertilizing whole mountainsides directly and indirectly. Entire watershed ecosystems become malnourished without bountiful salmon runs. As they return to rivers to spawn, chinook salmon also provide 80 percent of the essential diet of the endangered Southern Resident orcas, now numbering only 85. As the salmon go, so goes this precarious community of orcas.
Salmon runs have been decimated in the past century from clearcuts, road building, channeling and diking, shoreline hardening, pollution, diversion, dams and overharvesting -- death by a thousand cuts. The only way to bring them back is restoration by a thousand projects, and this is a good one. When salmon smolts just a few inches long emerge from the Skagit, they need protective marshes, wetlands and estuaries to find food and get protection from predators, and they need to make the radical transition from river water to seawater. Now they’ll have another refuge, so more of them will make it to the ocean, and more will make it back to spawn, and so the wheel spins.