2019 Annual Report: Wild Resilience
A LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
Our world seems more unstable than ever. As our political arenas, our communities, the Covid-19 disease, and the economy are in constant flux, it feels as if the ground keeps shifting underneath our feet. It becomes harder to know where we are.
For my family, our connection to the river and its fish has given us sanctuary from a sometimes uncertain and chaotic world. In the 1950s, my grandfather, recovering from a painful divorce, retreated to our cabin on the Deschutes to lick his wounds. Years later, my mother, exhausted from raising five children, would grab her paints and easel and slip off to the river for refuge. My father, cooped up in an office for months, would grab his alpenstock walking stick, and like a coiled spring, head for the rimrock.
I was allowed to roam the rivers and hills alone, first in search of reptiles and later as a fly fisherman. No matter what was happening in my life, I knew that once I saw the dark waters surging through the basalt canyon, smelled the pungent tang of sagebrush, and felt the warm sun on my face, I would feel safe from the world.
When the Oregon governor ordered us to “shelter in place,” my wife Lee and I knew just what to do with our three boys.
We went to the river. Undistracted by social media, news reports, and the stresses of the city, we tied flies, fished for trout, read books, and played guitar. We are extremely blessed to have a refuge, a river that will take care of us.
The rivers that run through our lives anchor us and connect us to nature in a way that is as fundamental to our existence as anything else in this world. The river is where you can find, as Robert Traver wrote, “solitude without loneliness.” So many people don’t have that refuge, or find their favorite one endangered.
Our work at Wild Salmon Center is to ensure that a network of these rivers—the greatest remaining around the North Pacific—are protected forever. Protected for those who live on these rivers; for those who depend on the salmon, clean water, and other gifts the river brings; and for all those who seek refuge there in troubled times. Everyone needs these places.
And we won’t have them unless we are ready to fight for their protection.
Thank you for helping us protect those places on Earth that are important for our health and sanity.
Thank you, as well, for your notes of encouragement and support these last few months. We are grateful for the wider Wild Salmon Center family, one that shares our mission and our life’s work. Together, we will emerge from this, alongside the rivers that keep us whole.
President and Chief Executive
Restoring Wild Salmon’s Superpower
The long history of wild Pacific salmon reads like a heroic tale of resilience and resettlement. Salmon fought their way back to the coastal rivers of British Columbia and Alaska, after the retreat of the miles-thick Cordilleran ice sheet. Ten millennia later, in 1981, wild fish ran up Washington’s Toutle River to successfully spawn, just a year after that watershed was reamed by debris and mud avalanches from Mt. St. Helens’ dramatic eruption. You could say adaptability—driven by 18 million years of natural selection along the wild Pacific coast—is salmon’s superpower.
But just as a new wave of climatic upheaval arrives, salmon’s renowned adaptability has taken a beating. Over the last century, in pursuit of predictable, abundant fishing harvests, we’ve crowded out wild fish with hatchery cousins and overfished wild runs. These practices have reduced wild salmon genetic diversity on both sides of the Pacific, leading to a loss of survival strategies such as spawning runs once spread across the whole year.
It’s like narrowing our trips to the grocery store to the same hour each week—when the shelves might be half-empty and the competition fierce.
That’s putting whole populations at risk.
The good news is that through a combination of genetic studies, historic run reconstruction, and a deeper understanding of intact, diverse populations, we’re getting a clear picture of how to restore and protect diversity. Only with a full range of ocean life cycles, run timings, and other survival strategies—life histories, as they’re known—will wild salmon be well-equipped to survive and thrive as the climate changes faster than at any time in known history.
In this years’ annual report, you’ll see how we’re working to understand, expand, and protect salmon’s adaptive capacity across the North Pacific. Protecting that resilience is a core strategy in protecting salmon strongholds, and a must-have if we want the salmon story to continue through these uncertain times. Sometimes your heroes need a little help recovering their superpowers.
Top: BC pink salmon (April Bencze). Above: Deschutes River, Guido Rahr and steelhead illustration (Guido Rahr). Below: Bristol Bay sockeye (Jason Ching).