The Klamath River in Northern California is in constant flux: Water recedes from the land stretching across the mouth at certain times of the year, as it did above in October 2015. When water floods the mouth, salmon come in from the Pacific Ocean to spawn upriver. Photo © Kevin Arnold

Outtakes: A Photographer Swims with the Fishes

October/November 2016

Twice in 2015 Kevin Arnold, a photographer based in British Columbia, traveled south to Northern California for a Nature Conservancy magazine story. There the local Yurok tribe has used income from the state’s carbon credit system to buy back and restore portions of their ancestral land.

The area, he says, feels surprisingly remote for California. “It’s one of those places you kind of pass through,” he says. “If you’re not part of the indigenous community, you have no connection there.”

On his trip he met locals, fishery researchers and those working to restore the forest. “It was a really incredible experience going down there and meeting the tribal members because they’re so successful,” he says. “Financially, they’re doing well, and they’re able to purchase this big area of land, and they’re really working hard to protect the environment.”

Only a few of Arnold’s photos made it into the print magazine. See outtakes from the story below and read more from Nature Conservancy’s special climate issue here.

After buying back some of its ancestral land from a logging company, the Yurok tribe has begun removing downed trees and other debris that block creeks feeding into the Klamath River. Roger Boulby (above), a Yurok tribal member, operates an excavator in these forests on sometimes treacherously steep land. “He’s really proud of his work,” Arnold says. Photo © Kevin Arnold
After buying back some of its ancestral land from a logging company, the Yurok tribe has begun removing downed trees and other debris that block creeks feeding into the Klamath River. Roger Boulby (above), a Yurok tribal member, operates an excavator in these forests on sometimes treacherously steep land. “He’s really proud of his work,” Arnold says. Photo © Kevin Arnold
“When you’re walking around, there’s downed trees everywhere,” says Arnold. To restore these forests, members of the Yurok are thinning overgrown trees (right) and clearing brush to create fire breaks and protect the land from destructive wildfires. Photo © Kevin Arnold
“When you’re walking around, there’s downed trees everywhere,” says Arnold. To restore these forests, members of the Yurok are thinning overgrown trees (right) and clearing brush to create fire breaks and protect the land from destructive wildfires. Photo © Kevin Arnold
The Yurok Tribe runs its own fisheries research group—the largest in California—to study salmon spawning in the Klamath River and its major tributary, Blue Creek (above). Arnold swam with Josh Jimenez-McQuiellen, a fisheries technician, and others in very cold water, as the researchers counted salmon by hand. Photo © Kevin Arnold
The Yurok Tribe runs its own fisheries research group—the largest in California—to study salmon spawning in the Klamath River and its major tributary, Blue Creek (above). Arnold swam with Josh Jimenez-McQuiellen, a fisheries technician, and others in very cold water, as the researchers counted salmon by hand. Photo © Kevin Arnold
“This is the first time I’ve shot underwater in a river,” says Arnold. Taking photographs of Chinook salmon (above, in Blue Creek) and others was not easy. The current was strong and the fish were fast, and at one point Arnold’s waterproof camera case began leaking, wrecking a $3,000 piece of equipment. Luckily, he had a backup camera on shore. Photo © Kevin Arnold
“This is the first time I’ve shot underwater in a river,” says Arnold. Taking photographs of Chinook salmon (above, in Blue Creek) and others was not easy. The current was strong and the fish were fast, and at one point Arnold’s waterproof camera case began leaking, wrecking a $3,000 piece of equipment. Luckily, he had a backup camera on shore. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Arnold met many members of the Yurok tribe, including Neil McKinnon (above) who uses elk skins to create traditional drums. McKinnon is a World War II veteran and a former logger. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Arnold met many members of the Yurok tribe, including Neil McKinnon (above) who uses elk skins to create traditional drums. McKinnon is a World War II veteran and a former logger. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Some Yurok like Peter Thompson (above) try to eat primarily from the forest, hunting for deer and elk and catching salmon. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Some Yurok like Peter Thompson (above) try to eat primarily from the forest, hunting for deer and elk and catching salmon. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Blue Creek is a tributary to the Klamath River and a major salmon-spawning ground in Yurok Territory. Restoring the forest along the creek helps protect that spawning area as well as the Klamath itself, which is integral to the Yurok culture. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Blue Creek is a tributary to the Klamath River and a major salmon-spawning ground in Yurok Territory. Restoring the forest along the creek helps protect that spawning area as well as the Klamath itself, which is integral to the Yurok culture. Photo © Kevin Arnold

— NCM

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3 comments

  1. we loved all ur work n quotes for our conversation project.. keep up with the good work n keep on inspiring. with regards- nature lover??

  2. Makes me happy to read this. The Yurok are just across the mountains where I grew up, and some of my relatives lived there. When I was a child, my friends and I learned some of the songs and dances of the Yurok. I am not sure why exactly we were taught these things, but I remember the respect our teachers had for the tribe. I love that land and miss it. I am glad to hear of the success the people are having in bringing back the river, and the lands around it, and the salmon, which I learned to think of as special representatives between the earth, the water, the creatures of both, and people.

  3. In a time of such great turmoil for lands and forests all over the earth, it’s great to success stories like this to bring hope. Many blessings upon the Yurok people and the Nature Conservancy for helping make this happen with the carbon credits.