PAT NEAL: Who owns the river: An apology

It was wrong to say in a recent column that bureaucrats, biologists and the bull trout owned the Hoh River.

In my own defense, there’s no way you can be an unbiased witness to a crime scene when you are too emotionally involved with the victim of the crime.

Make no mistake, the Hoh River is a victim of the gross mismanagement that can only be described as a crime against nature.

With the elimination of the salmon runs, we have stopped the massive exchange of energy from the ocean to the mountains and back that the salmon represent.

Salmon die after they spawn.

Their carcasses once littered the forest floor, nurturing everything from the tiniest bug to the largest trees in a cycle of renewal that operated since the ice age. We killed it.

The simple fact is, I am too emotionally involved with the Hoh River. Having fished this river since the 1960s and watched it be killed with a torturous death of a thousand cuts, it’s enough to make an old man cry.

Seeing the destruction of the things we love can make us unable to place the events in their historical perspective.

People who were outraged by the slaughter of the estimated 60 million bison that once roamed our great plains simply could not understand how our nation’s industrial revolution required bison hides for conveyor belts lubricated with whale oil.

They could not possibly accept that then, as now, extinction is good for business.

For example, recently Seattle celebrated the arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the season. Flown down from Alaska, they sold for $75 dollars a pound!

Even more amazing is the fact that people lined up to buy these rare salmon.

Would that Alaskan salmon be so expensive if the Puget Sound salmon hadn’t been managed into threatened/endangered species status? No.

When salmon were plentiful here, they were called the poor man’s tuna.

It took this rush to extinction to make salmon worth what it is today.

The fact is, our salmon have become much too valuable to be used as food for the common people.

Our threatened/endangered salmon are now used to fuel a vast salmon restoration industry that has spent an estimated $2 billion on salmon restoration projects with no corresponding increase in the salmon populations.

Instead, we see increasing numbers of threatened/endangered salmon and a decrease in opportunities for people to catch salmon for their own food.

It’s not just the bureaucrats, biologists and the bull trout that own the Hoh River, I forgot to include the so-called “environmental” attorneys and the myriad profit-driven “nonprofit” corporations.

They are the ones constantly blocking proven fish restoration methods that have restored salmon, even in places where they did not previously exist like Chile, New Zealand and Michigan.

For example, we cannot place remote hatch boxes full of fertilized salmon eggs in barren streams with no salmon.

This was previously done by Missy Barlow, a Hoh River resident who built these egg hatch boxes with a 4-H group to restore salmon and steelhead populations on streams all along the lower Hoh River.

We cannot use the native fish of our streams as brood stock to rebuild the runs of salmon and steelhead before they disappear completely.

The fact is, salmon are worth too much to be used to feed humans any more.

Salmon, or the idea of salmon, is now used to feed a vast salmon restoration industry whose gratuitous research, make-work projects and bloated budgets profit from the engineered extinction of salmon.

It’s the end of the last frontier.

_________

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].

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