This is the first of several diaries on Northwest salmon, the text of which was published Saturday, and which received three comments. I'm going to fish for more attention with a likely different readership at this time.
My focus here is the Klamath River, its lost fishery, and the fight to get it back. I'm hardly a pioneer in this area. Hundreds of scientists, activists, and fishers have been working for Klamath salmon for decades, and thousands of supporters have followed their work.
It has been a hairy and stormy ride through endless studies and conferences, demonstrations, through the headgates of irrigation ditches of farmlands, through tribal lands along the river, the turbines of river dams, through the halls of Congress and even into the secret chambers of the White House.
Some big shots have been involved, Dick Cheney most notoriously. And it has all come to this: at this moment the fate of Klamath salmon rests on one phone call by one man, Warren Buffett.
My purpose here is to present an introductory overview of the Klamath River system and its fish, a quick history of Klamath salmon, a brief treatment of the present crisis pertaining to dams and water allocation, and possible outcomes in the struggle to bring standing to a hugely important genera, the fish of the Pacific Northwest. In the end I'm hoping that you might join the struggle to see salmon-justice done.
Our world, I don't really need to remind you, is rapidly devolving in every way. Not only are food species going extinct, but the ones that do persist, both under our control and still in the wild, are becoming degraded and even dangerous sources of nutrition.
"Healthy food" is more and more becoming an oxymoron. The food production system of the developed countries is suspect in every way. Everywhere we look we see pollution, pesticides, destructive fertilizer, toxic additives (melamin being the latest Chinese scandal), genetic alteration, a "dumbing down" of species selection (tomatoes and apples, e.g.) to fit mass marketing and distribution requirements, animals raised under torturous conditions, farmed fish that lack vigor, and outright deception on the part of the brokerages that manage imports. Your "extra virgin" Italian olive oil might not be Italian, virgin or even all-olive. In America, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is poorly funded, low staffed, and usually not up to the challenges of monitoring-- much less protecting us from-- food.
The thoughtful consumer therefore, has a problem. You shop very selectively. If you can, you grow a vegetable garden. Or you buy produce at a local farmer's market.
To me fresh, clean wild salmon is the best food on the planet. It's getting harder to find; the upscale store across the street sells Canadian farmed salmon for 11 dollars a pound. When I talked with the store's butcher and mentioned the sad situation on the Klamath River, the blocked salmon runs and bad water, I was met with a frosty stare. A CDR ( Cognitively-Dissonanced Republican) probably.
Salmon: If it's wild, wild from where? If it's farmed, under what conditions? I can't answer that here. I do have a suggestion, though. Why not restore the salmon runs in our own backyard? Maybe we can do our part to bring better and cheaper salmon to the table. So I begin:
The Mighty Klamath. It's a river that Kan Klean your Klock. It starts in the high desert of Oregon and finishes in the redwoods of California. In between is a wild river that traverses some of the wildest country in North America. Take a look at one of its tributaries, Elk Creek, and tell me that isn't wild--the mist, the steep tree-covered slopes, the torrents through those boulders. The river itself works through rock for hundreds of miles with rapids up to class six.
Go to the Encarta map at the "Mighty Klamath" link above and play with it. (I like this map because it de-emphasizes highways and also names railroad towns that are today extinct. It's like a 19th century map.)
Okay, then follow the Klamath north, up past Upper Klamath Lake all the way to world-famous Crater Lake.
See Annie Creek? It flows from springs coming out of the cool blue 4000 foot deep lake. Auspicious headwaters, no? Now look at the river's mouth over three hundred miles away.
So that's the pretty picture of the Klamath salmon's part-time habitat. Oh, and what about the fish itself?
Here's a start, from a collection of photos by professional photographer Mary Edwards: Chinook eggs. The river is the womb for the developing fish. Aww what the heck, here's her whole salmon gallery.
She's on the bus:
There is nothing that rocks my world more than being underwater in the presence of fish, particularly those creatures of liquid light, salmon. As a fisheries biologist I understand the biology of their life cycle, but it is their strength and determination that touches my soul. I have often thought if I could harness one tenth of their passion and determination, what more might I accomplish in this life.
We have to eat to live. All life is beautiful, yet we take life daily. I then, love salmon even as I like to eat them. How we resolve this dilemma rests in higher truth. But anyway, I love them and want to help with the improvement and restoration of their habitat.
Because as beautiful as the Klamath River is, it is a sick river. There is too little water, the water is too warm and prone to disease, and there are dams blocking the upper reaches and harming water quality. By general consensus in the salmon movement, the first thing that needs to be done is to remove the dams.
Let's visit the four in question. Their names are--going upstream--Iron Gate (built in an irony-free era), Copco 2, Copco 1, and J.C. Boyle. ( Copco 2 came after Copco 1 because 1 had a bad habit of killing millions of salmon fingerlings with extreme releases. So 2 was built with better controls on water flow in mind. No photo; same design as Copco 1)
At this point I want to introduce a Native American perspective on the dams and their impact on salmon. The Karuk Tribe of the lower Klamath has a dog in the fight, and perhaps the greatest motivation for dam removal.
Today, all anadromous runs of salmon and steelhead, once abundant in the upper basin, are extinct above Iron Gate Dam. This means over 350 miles of historic salmon habitat is unreachable by fish and much of it buried beneath reservoirs.
In all, there are six dams on the main stem of the Klamath River: Iron Gate, Copco I and Copco II, J.C. Boyle, Keno, and Link River. Since Keno and Link effectively replace natural reefs that were destroyed and they serve the need of re-regulating erratic flows for the upstream irrigation project, the Karuk Tribe and its allies seek the removal of the lower four dams. However, Keno and Link must be fitted with functional fish ladders.
(Note: This website predates recent agreements that place the decision for removal of the dams entirely in PacifiCorp's court following an important agreement among the various stakeholders. We'll discuss those developments later.)
Opposition to the tribes' interests in dismantling the dams is often not very nice. I include this just to suggest how the salmon issue might be received in a Klamath Falls tavern of an evening.
This, then, is an introduction to, or for some a revisit of, the Klamath salmon issue. Other draft diaries are in the bin, and at this point I would like to see some reaction to particular parts of the story that may inspire me to write in that direction.