PAT NEAL: An Earth Day review

How was your Earth Day? Many hoped it would lead to some progress in reducing the pollution of our planet’s air, water and soil.

It was once thought that, by using science and technology, we could clean up the industrial mess we have made with our science and technology. Instead, this year’s biggest scientific achievement would be flying a helicopter on Mars while we ignored our own dying planet.

Look at Hood Canal. This glacial fiord was once the most productive marine environment in the Pacific Northwest.

Hood Canal was once home to an inexhaustible bounty of oysters, clams, shrimp, crabs and bottom fish. The rivers that ran into Hood Canal were teeming with salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. Unfortunately, since that first Earth Day, we have turned parts of Hood Canal into dead zones. We are studying the problem.

Traveling west, we come to Discovery Bay. It was also once home to “inexhaustible” marine resources. Until it was used for a dumping ground for mill waste and undisclosed military waste then treated to a slipshod so-called restoration project that unleashed plumes of sulpheric acid and metal precipitate that heavily impacted formerly inexhaustible sea life.

Further west, we reach Dungeness Bay. Home of the famous Dungeness Crab, Dungeness Bay has fallen on hard times. Since that first Earth Day, much of the sea life of Dungeness Bay is either polluted, endangered or extinct. That means no more Dungeness Bay oysters or King salmon. Crabbing is closed most of the year. Even the clams are periodically unsafe to eat. In short, Dungeness Bay has outlived its usefulness.

Coincidentally, real estate prices around Dungeness Bay have never been higher. If the bay is too toxic for sea life, a cost-benefit analysis indicates the highest and best use would be to fill in the bay, pave and short plat it as an age 55 and older retirement community.

West of Dungeness, we come to what was once called “False Dungeness” or Port Angeles. After over a century of being used as an industrial dumping ground where heavy rains can still wash raw sewage into the harbor, we are studying possible cleanup scenarios, someday.

West of Port Angeles, we find the largest man-made structure on the Olympic Peninsula, a pyramid made of garbage. In the bad old days of the first Earth Day, we threw our garbage off a cliff into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Then we burned it. Now we truck our garbage to Tacoma, railroad it to the Columbia, barge it upriver to eastern Oregon, where we truck it out to the desert and throw it off a cliff. That’s progress for you.

West of the Port Angeles pyramid, we come to the biggest environmental movement this place has ever seen, the removal of the Elwha Dams. Experts told us that, once the dams were removed, up to 400,000 salmon would magically appear. Yet other undammed rivers all across the Peninsula have lost their salmon populations. The fishing moratorium on the Elwha has been extended, an indication of the failed attempts at restoring this great river. Are there other factors besides dams that affect salmon survival? We don’t care.

Traveling west, we view clear cuts habitually sprayed with herbicides to eliminate anything that might compete with a future crop of trees.

Then we reach the acidified Pacific Ocean. A walk on any Pacific beach reveals a growing problem of plastic pollution from minute particles to giant blobs of Styrofoam.

The Pacific Ocean is too big to pave, but it is not too big for us to kill. Happy Earth Day.


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