PAT NEAL: The space race

THIS IS A momentous week in the history of the United States.

It was just 50 years ago on July 20, 1969, that America put the first man on the moon.

It was the culmination of years of planning, research and spending that was kicked off by President John F. Kennedy’s “moon speech,” in May of 1961 when he proclaimed our ambitious goal of becoming “the world’s leading space faring nation.”

Russia had just put the first human in space a few weeks before.

We were in a Cold War with Russia where each side threatened the other with enough nuclear weapons to blow up the Earth many times over.

What became known as the “Space Race” with the USSR was an effort to ensure that “we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction.”

This is a phrase that has echoed in our national mythology ever since.

Currently, there is a revised interest in space travel with politicians insisting we should focus our nation’s laser-like attention on the Space Race because, despite a record national debt of more than $22 trillion dollars and NASA’s struggles with delays and cost overruns, we should restart the Space Race of 50 years ago by returning to the moon and going to Mars.

Why on Earth would we go back to the moon?

Maybe we don’t want the Russians and the Chinese with their weapons of mass destruction getting there first.

Maybe going to the moon would distract us from the unsolvable problems we’ve created here on Earth.

We have to face the facts that since the first moon landing 50 years ago we have been killing the Earth with an exploding human population, pollution and the destruction of our natural resources at an ever- increasing rate.

The remaining life on our planet is quickly being threatened by invasive species and reduced by endangered species while we placidly observe the mass extinction of species.

Which begs the question, are the humans next?

I can think of no finer example of environmental degradation than our own local Morse Creek.

Since people first came here, they camped along the creek to harvest enough salmon to last the winter.

Fifty years ago, it was called a “sportsman’s paradise” full of spring chinook during the summer that had been planted by the Dungeness Fish Hatchery and flooded with humpies every odd year.

Sometime after the state stopped planting salmon in Morse Creek, they became endangered.

The salmon restoration industry responded by buying property from (willing) sellers, planting trees and building log jams.

It’s all part of the $1 billion Washington state has spent on salmon restoration in the past 20 years with no corresponding increase in salmon.

This week it was announced that Clallam and Jefferson counties will get nearly $7.1 million more out of a $45 million slush fund to buy property from (willing) sellers, plant trees and build log jams to restore endangered salmon for the endangered orca.

Meanwhile the Dungeness Fish Hatchery is forced to operate at a fraction of its fish production capability.

The $3 million salmon raising facility at Morse Creek sits abandoned.

These days, instead of being a source of high-quality protein for people, our streams are used to pad the resumes of bureaucrats who practice the fine art of making paper fish for starving orcas.

No doubt we can put another man on the moon but can we put a salmon back in the creek?

Albert Einstein is said to have said repeating the same failed experiment while expecting different results is insanity.

Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we call it salmon restoration.


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 patneal