In previous episodes, we traced the transfer of ownership of the Hoh River from the Native Americans, who were the original inhabitants, to various warring European countries and ultimately to the United States.
Once the U.S. gained title to the land through a series of genocidal treaties with the Native Americans, ownership of the land was transferred to individual European homesteaders.
The ensuing corruption of the Homestead Act, where timber companies had their employees sell their land to their employers, who then logged the land and let it go back to the counties for back taxes, ended homesteading and gave the remaining unsettled land to the Olympic Forest Reserve.
With the construction of the Olympic Loop Highway, a road that would become known as Highway 101, a new owner of the Hoh River appeared, the Department of Transportation. The highway was built along the river to keep construction costs down, which made the road vulnerable to flooding.
Large rocks were placed along the road to armor the banks to keep the road from being washed out. As time passed, another new owner of the Hoh River appeared, the biologist. Despite the fact that the Hoh and all our Olympic Peninsula rivers are lined with rocks from their source to their mouth, the biologists determined rocks in the river were bad for the fish.
If this were true, there would be no fish in our rivers.
The biologists somehow theorized that building engineered log jams in the river to protect the road would somehow restore the dwindling runs of salmon and steelhead in the Hoh River.
In 2007, $8 million was spent building engineered logjams using steel I-beams pounded into the bottom of the river in a failed attempt to change the course of the Hoh.
Hoh River log jams are deadly. The last two fatalities in the Hoh River have occurred in log jams. Numerous boats, canoes and kayaks are constantly being wrecked in log jams. Putting log jams in our rivers endangers human lives.
Meanwhile, another owner of the Hoh River appeared, the non-profit corporation.
The Hoh River Trust was formed in 2001 to restore the rainforest ecosystem and maintain public access to the Hoh River. It did this by getting government grants to buy land along the river.
At the time, the Hoh River was considered the last best salmon and steelhead river in the continental United States with the most rainfall, the biggest trees and a natural heritage that goes back to the time when the Thunderbird was said to live in the glaciers of Mt. Olympus.
When the Hoh River Trust showed up, nobody trusted them. The Hoh River Trust worked hard to develop trust with the locals and I, like an idiot, helped them. I supported the Hoh River Trust because they said they’d preserve public access.
Eventually, the mismanagement of the Hoh River Trust lands made them decide to get rid of the 7,000 acres they had acquired. Suggestions that the HRT return the land to the original owners, the Hoh Tribe, were ignored. Instead, the land was given to the Nature Conservancy.
Then, the Federal Highway Administration showed up on the Upper Hoh River, intent on building more log jams. This time, instead of pounding steel I-beams into the river, a practice which kills fish by rupturing their air bladders, it was decided to crush them with log jams made of 16,000-pound chunks of concrete instead.
All in a vain attempt to slow or “buffer” the Hoh River and contain it into one single, permanent, channel.
Next: Domesticating the last best river in America.
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 [email protected].