Restoring the red pulse

 

I recently sat at a table at the Power House, the coolest brew and bike shop in Hailey, Idaho, talking with three ambitious conservationists. Over dark stouts and savory burgers and fries, Merrill Beyeler, who runs a family ranch in Leadore, Tom Page, who ranches with his brother in the Pahsimeroi Valley, and Mark Davidson of Trout Unlimited described their efforts to not only restore their own lands, but to create a network of central Idaho ranchers who want to do the same.

We talked about the big picture (the dwindling funds available for protecting large Western landscapes), and about the ironies involved in restoration (the regulatory hurdles facing ranchers who want to reduce their public-land grazing). But mostly we focused on the threesome's efforts to help endangered chinook salmon, a small number of which still miraculously navigate the 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the Lemhi and Pahsimeroi rivers. By screening ditches, replacing clogged culverts and "re-watering" dry tributaries long disconnected from the rivers, they have opened up historic spawning habitat for the fish.

But, as senior editor Ray Ring points out in his cover story on Alaska's astoundingly prolific Bristol Bay ecosystem, just because you restore some habitat doesn't mean the fish will come. The system that sends salmon and steelhead to central Idaho – the Columbia River – has been so altered by dams, agriculture and other industries that wild salmon now return at a rate of less than 2 percent of their historic levels.

Bristol Bay's rivers, on the other hand, are far less developed, and millions of salmon still course through them every year, feeding everything from bears and gulls to flies and fungus. Year by year, scientists are uncovering the threads that make the Bristol Bay's ecological tapestry so rich and so resilient to short-term natural changes.

Can such threads be reassembled in the Columbia? Conservationists have tried valiantly for decades. They have forced dam managers to build fish ladders and allow more flow over the spillways; they have worked with farmers and ranchers to reduce pollution; and they have tried to re-introduce the biggest salmon predator, the grizzly bear, to Idaho's wild interior. Ultimately, they have made a compelling case that salmon will recover only if we remove dams, starting with the four on the Snake River.

The conservation-minded ranchers around the table nodded when I asked if they think the dams are a problem. They, like me, would like to see the red tide of salmon pulsing once again through the sagebrush and pine trees of central Idaho, filling those painstakingly restored tributaries. Bristol Bay, however, doesn't need restoration; it's already thriving. So let's leave this incredible ecosystem alone. Perhaps it can teach us how to preserve what we still have and to restore some of what we've lost.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.