PAT NEAL: New threat to our threatened salmon

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news for the planet we call home.

We almost don’t need the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity to tell us that the world’s ecosystems are at risk of “rapid degradation and collapse” unless “swift, radical and creative action” is taken.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, there are 19 populations of salmon and steelhead listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There are many reasons for this.

Dams have been blamed for endangering endangered salmon, but what about the countless rivers and streams that have no dams and have no salmon? The $325 million dam removal experiment on the Elwha River has an uncertain future, given the hopelessly entangled, futile negotiations between the state, the tribes, the federal government and environmental attorneys in a quagmire they call “co-management.”

All we know for sure is that the five-year fishing moratorium on the Elwha was extended for two more years. That should give us a clue as to how the experiment is going.

Climate change has been blamed for killing off the salmon, but we are obviously not going to do anything about that in the current political climate, which denies it is even happening.

Nylon pollution — that is, the over-fishing of salmon throughout the extent of their range from the spawning beds to the high seas — has been identified as a threat to our salmon, but it seems as if this will continue until we catch the last fish.

The burgeoning population of fish-eating pinnipeds has grown to 300,000 sea lions on the West Coast and 30,000 harbor seals in Puget Sound since the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Between them, they are eating so many salmon that the orca are starving their way to extinction. We lost seven of the critically endangered southern resident orcas in the past year.

Vast populations of Caspian terns, double-crested cormorants, pelicans, ring-billed gulls, California gulls, mergansers and other fish-eating birds too numerous to mention also decimate the out-migrating salmon before the seals and sea lions get a chance to eat them.

The billions spent on so-called habitat restoration projects have produced negligible results that defy any responsible cost-benefit analysis. We need look no further than the $2.78 million culvert replacement on Matriotti Creek that blocked traffic on U.S. Highway 101 west of Sequim for months to allow fish to return to a dry creek bed.

Our right to water has been eliminated as a pretext to saving the salmon.

We have been instructed in a recent state Department of Fish and Wildlife publication to follow a set of suggested modified behaviors that include being happy with less than-perfect plant specimens and lawns. We are told to schedule electrical use for non-peak periods.

Use public transit, car pools, walking or bicycling as often as possible. Avoid vehicle travel on muddy roads.

Use as little household water for washing, cleaning, flushing, etc., as possible. Limit bath and shower time.

These suggestions have not been codified into law — yet.

None of these restrictions deals effectively with the latest identifiable threat to our salmon: the electric light bulb.

The recently released “State of Our Watersheds Report” from the 20 treaty tribes in Western Washington contends that intense artificial lighting could be changing salmon behavior in urban Puget Sound. In other words, the electric lights will have to go.

It’s up to all of us to do what we can to save the salmon. If that means we stop bathing and freeze to death in the dark, we’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]

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