Soon after I moved to Idaho, I fished a tiny little stream — the kind of water where you can catch trout of eight or maybe 10 inches.
And then a behemoth swam by, literally parting the waters.
Half out of the water, it pushed on: the final part of a 900-mile journey to its spawning waters.
As with so many ecological wonders, the sight of such salmon is tinged with a sense of sadness — because the salmon I see now respresent but a tiny fraction of what once was here.
I hear stories of Idaho’s Redfish Lake turned red by sockeye salmon. Now as few as two fish return. Two.
But there’s no need to be a Debbie Downer about salmon. Sometimes conservationists focus too much on what’s lost.
As my friend Scott Hed of the Sportsman’s Alliance for Alaska writes:
“While wild salmon stocks in many parts of the world are in peril, Alaska represents a place where these magnificent fish still return in such abundance that the numbers are staggering and nearly impossible to comprehend.”
So what are we waiting for?
A Canadian mining company is proposing an open-pit gold/copper mine — called Pebble Mine — in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.
We all know this story too often ends like this post began: With an angler staring at a lone salmon, wondering what it must have been like when rivers ran red with fish.
As conservationists, it will cost much less to stand for Bristol Bay now than it will to restore salmon to damaged rivers.
Humans have gotten the salmon story — the fish story — wrong way too many times.
With political will, though, the Bristol Bay story can have a happy ending.
This requires individuals and organizations, even non-confrontational ones, to take a thoughtful but firm stand. To say: The rivers will still run red at Bristol Bay.
(Photo: Salmon spawning in Alaska. Credit: Charlie Ott.)