PAT NEAL: A decade of disaster

BY NOW WE are all fed up with know-it-all newspaper columnists telling us what the most important events of the last 10 years were. Anything they can do I can do better.

If you are a person who fishes, hunts or gathers wild foods, or enjoys bird watching, floating rivers or just being on public land on the Olympic Peninsula, the last 10 years have been one disaster after another. The days of enjoying these activities are numbered. In short, things are bad and getting worse if the last 10 years are any indication.

The view is even worse if you go back further into history and see how many of our natural resources have been lost.

Recently Murray Morgan’s classic 1955 book, “The Last Wilderness” was republished.

Morgan’s humorous history of the Peninsula had a Chamber of Commerce view of, “Trees as tall as skyscrapers, salmon as big as month-old calves.”

Now the days of old-growth is economically extinct. We log toothpicks for lumber. The big salmon are extinct.

Morgan described a Hoh River elk hunt where 5,280 elk hunters harvested 803 elk.

There aren’t that many elk shot on the entire Peninsula these days.

Flash forward to the last 10 years when just being on public land without the right permit could get you ticketed. In 2011 the hated Discover Pass, a $35 permit to be on state land was required. We were told the Discover Pass would fund State Parks. But we were told the lottery would fund education with similar failed results.

2011 also marked the beginning of the world’s largest dam removal project on the Elwha which opened up 70 miles of salmon spawning habitat. Unintended consequences of the dam removal project included a five-year fishing moratorium that’s increased to seven and the loss of the Olympic Hot Springs road and the myriad recreational opportunities of the upper Elwha Valley.

Dam removal also endangered the Port Angeles water system and the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River. At least the fish are coming back with the aid of the Lower Elwha’s $35 million dollar fish hatchery and the state’s chinook rearing channel.

Which begs the question, why can’t we restore the salmon and steelhead on Peninsula rivers that have never been dammed?

Salmon restoration has been another dismal failure in the last ten years.

While proven salmon restoration methods such as placing boxes of fertilized eggs in streams that would hatch into baby fish and migrate out to sea were rejected, millions were spent buying property from (willing) sellers, building engineered log jams and spraying herbicides on our rivers with predictable results.

Our fish continue to dwindle to extinction. After 100 years of planting hatchery fish in every river in the state, our fisheries mis-managers decided to give up and cave in to some environmental attorney’s demands to stop planting hatchery fish because they were somehow different than the native fish.

In 2014, 900,000 of our Puget Sound steelhead were planted in lakes in Eastern Washington instead of in our rivers. The elimination of our fish hatcheries has resulted in the starvation of the orca.

In 2018 the world watched as a mother orca named Tahlequah carried her dead calf for 17 days while the cameras rolled.

A blue-ribbon task force was formed to look into the problem of the orca starving into extinction with predictable results.


Like the orca, one million sea birds have recently starved to death off our coast. Adding to the systematic environmental carnage of the last 10 years.

The next 10 years can only get worse.


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

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