Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The floor, not the ceiling

Salmon returns in the Columbia and Snake Rivers

This summer, the Columbia-Snake River Basin is witnessing a very positive return of salmon and steelhead. Scientists credit favorable ocean conditions, along with the court-ordered spill of water over some of the basin’s dams, for swelling the ranks of fish.
The increases in spill (the good kind) — won in court by Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition members alongside the legal team at Earthjustice — helps many more baby salmon survive their epic migrations from mountain streams to the sea where they grow to adulthood. Scientists also credit this spill with significantly contributing to a chinook salmon return currently 140 percent above the 10-year average and a sockeye run breaking modern records.

For those working to restore vibrant runs of salmon to the Columbia-Snake, this year’s salmon returns offer a glimpse of what could be achieved if we follow science to protect what was once the world’s most productive salmon watershed. For the communities that rely on these fish, and for the durability of the Endangered Species Act, these returns should represent the floor, not the ceiling, as we assess the recovery of Columbia-Snake salmon and the economic, cultural, and ecosystem needs of the region. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nobody's Backyard: Pat Ford on the Tar Sands

What follows is a letter from Save Our Wild Salmon's executive director to coalition members and supporters, on the emerging implications for salmon of oil sands strip-mining in Canada's Boreal Forest.  Exxon recently issued a surprise plan to use the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and Idaho and Montana highways, to ship huge mining machinery to the oil sands. In effect, the Columbia and Snake Rivers are slated to be a conveyor belt for one of the world's largest intentional environmental disasters.

This is the kind of project that belongs in nobody's backyard...


Dear friends of Save Our Wild Salmon,

This fall Exxon intends to start using the Columbia and Snake Rivers as a transportation corridor to support development of the Canadian oil sands in northern Alberta.  The basics of oil sands development, Exxon’s plan, and the threats of both to salmon are outlined on our website.  I think this matter helps illuminate the changed context of conservation and citizenship in a time of climate disruption.

Save Our Wild Salmon’s mission is to restore abundant wild salmon to Northwest rivers and streams for use by people and ecosystems.  Most of those salmon and steelhead are endangered by extinction or trending that way, for the “old” reasons we are all familiar with:  habitat destruction of many kinds at all scales, often abetted and complicated by our salmon management responses.    

Salmon people are now looking for handles on a risk that overlays and amplifies the old ones:  the steady heating of our rivers and disruption of the water cycles that govern them caused by the collective greenhouse gas pollution of humankind.  It gives one pause.  Stopping and then reversing habitat destruction is hard enough, but at least we can have at it in the watersheds where we live or work or fish.  It is rather more daunting if coal development in China is now a greater threat to salmon than, say, public land livestock grazing in our own states.  How do we deal with that?

SOS’ response, like everyone’s in this new context, is experimental – but it has not been timid.  Since 2007, working with allies, we have helped move the Northwest toward a future with both wild salmon and clean energy.  We take Ben Franklin’s conviction in another context to heart:  these two pillars of a good future will either hang together, or hang separately.  We have not worked on coal plants in China, nor to phase out particular coal plants in the Northwest; but we have endorsed, helped document, and helped fund the steps to a Northwest energy future that is close to carbon-free in 30 years.  This is a necessary future for salmon, for people, and for the waters we share.

Full development of the Canadian oil sands will greatly increase the carbon pollution that, unless stopped, will by stages render Northwest waters uninhabitable for salmon.  The oil sands are not that far away.  Our fellow salmon defenders in British Columbia – First Nations, conservationists, fishermen, their communities – are fighting it, and we should join them in self-interest and solidarity.

Salmon defenders are also citizens.  Exxon is one of the largest assemblies of money, technical prowess and power on earth.  Focused on its dominating purpose – make money - it has worked quietly for at least two years to oil the skids for its plan.  Government agencies and elected officials, federal and state, have enabled Exxon’s secrecy and single focus in all-too-familiar ways:  inadvertence, tunnel vision, and capture by the monied and powerful.  Plus a factor that is not unique to government:  capture in the ruts of the past, which in times of challenge can become very deep pits.

A passionate wise young friend asked me a few days ago as I outlined Exxon’s plan, “When do we make our turn to the future?  When do we stop serving a past that we know can’t continue?”  She was in part addressing the Obama Administration, for which she had large hopes on energy and climate.  But she also addressed herself, and me, and you.  Developing the oil sands is for some a comfortable continuation of what has worked well for a century.  For most of us it is a growing but completely invisible source for the gas we pump into our cars.   But our children and children’s children – what is mining the oil sands to them?  Is it part of the change their eyes looking back to us from their future are asking us to make?  When do we start those changes?

I have met some of the Canadians fighting for salmon and their homes, thus against oil sands mining and pipelines.  They are tough patriotic people to whom we owe help.  Now we learn the confluence of massive strip-mining for oil in Canada and climate disruption also threatens salmon in the Columbia and Snake.  Salmon teach the lessons of connectedness, and so will global warming teach them, sternly, for decades to come. 

On behalf of our namesake, Save Our Wild Salmon will oppose Exxon’s plans for the Columbia and Snake, and join friends and fellows in opposing the oil sands.  Win or lose, I trust we will learn something for the many next cases to come when climate change pushes us outside our accustomed ranges of acting and reacting.  As it does the same to salmon, if we watch closely how they react I think we will learn lessons for ourselves.    

Good citizen website. Chronicles work by people who live along and use the Lochsa River who suddenly find this project bearing down on them.
Pembina Institute in Vancouver has a website on the tar sands and its effects along the British Columbia coast.
U.S. effects of the tar sands (though so far without mention of Exxon's proposal) are featured on a joint website of some national conservation groups.
A link for the Declaration against the oil sands and Gateway Pipeline by nine First Nations on the British Columbia coast.

Science guided by politics?

from: "Scientists expected Obama administration to be friendlier" - L.A. Times, July 10

"In the Pacific Northwest, Ruch said, his organization [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility] has heard in the last 16 months from multiple federal fisheries biologists who report that they are under pressure to downplay the impact of dams on wild salmon." 

Recently the L.A. Times ran an important story on the Obama administration's unfortunate continuation of science guided by politics. The story, by Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger of the L.A. Times' Washington Bureau, outlines several examples of corrupted science across the country, including a key mention of the Columbia-Snake basin.  
Here's the story.
Please comment or send a Letter to the Editor.  More on that here.

What is Tripods in the Mud?

iLCP photographer Neil Osborne at Little Redfish Lake. © Emily Nuchols

Save Our Wild Salmon and the International League of Conservation Photographers have joined forces to tell the story of the Snake River's one of a kind salmon and the place they call home.

Sometimes you've got to get on the ground. Get dirty, muddy and immerse yourself in a story... That's exactly what iLCP photographer Neil Osborne did to tell the story of Snake River salmon.

Tripods in the Mud (TIM) is an initiative of the iLCP that helps partner professional photographers like Neil with conservation organizations for the creation of visual materials on a specific region or issue.
Tripods (And Feet) in the Mud. © Neil Ever Osborne

Snake River salmon swim more than 900 miles inland and climb almost 7,000 feet to reach their spawning grounds — the highest salmon spawning habitat on the planet , and the largest and wildest habitat left in the continental United States. These one of a kind salmon travel farther and higher than any other salmon on Earth.
So how do you make people care? And get them to act? Give them beautiful and provocative images to tell the story.

Thanks to iLCP for joining the fight to save our wild salmon! Learn more about TIM and iLCP here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Salmon, Wildlife and Connecting the Dots in the Sawtooth Valley

©Neil Ever Osborne

Save Our Wild Salmon and the
International League of Conservation Photographers have joined forces to tell the story of the Snake River's one of a kind salmon and the place they call home.

Not since I was little, have I searched for wildlife so hard.

It's all so clear to kids. Everything is obviously interconnected. And everything is exciting. Their point of view of the world is untainted and hopeful. But somewhere along the way, we adults have lost that simplicity to our lives. And I'm lucky enough to say that one week reminded me of how important that simplicity is.

Last week I got to think, see (and act) like a kid again. We rose at 5a.m. every day to catch the sunrise and didn't stop again until 10p.m. when the sun went down. While the sun was our guide, we were also out to catch wildlife. I have to admit, I was a bit pessimistic about our chances of snagging good wildlife shots, but we were determined... And incredibly lucky.

©Neil Ever Osborne

When you're out there stalking a moose in the woods, or hiding behind sagebrush to get the perfect shot of a pronghorn, or staring for hours staring at the river hoping for a glimpse of the first salmon runs, it's really not that difficult to see how all of these animals are connected.

These salmon that migrate from the ocean are packed with nutrients, carrying them the forests and rivers, and hundreds of animals that exist on land and water. They're little powerhouses. When you simplify that process, it's even more clear...

©Neil Ever Osborne

When salmon come home to spawn and die, the forest has a feast. Eagles, ospreys, bugs, raccoons, wolves, bears and riparian grasses and trees all dine on these iconic fish. From there, it's a domino effect. Deer, elk, bighorn sheep and more dine on the lush grasses by the river. And more wolves and bears eat them. And hey, humans are part of the equation too — eating salmon and large game animals.

Once you break it down. It's clear as day. We're all connected and our futures rely on that interconnectedness. You take one piece out, and it affects every single one of us in one way or another. We lose the way our ecosystem works.

Let's make sure that doesn't happen with these one of kind fish. Take action to save our wild salmon today!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Proud To Be An American? Save Salmon.

©Neil Ever Osborne

Save Our Wild Salmon and the International League of Conservation Photographers have joined forces to tell the story of the Snake River's one of a kind salmon and the place they call home.

Think bald eagles are patriotic? Check out this amazing photo from ILCP's Neil Osborne, then
take action to save their favorite food — wild salmon!

Friday, July 2, 2010

To Find the Perfect Shot, Sometimes You Have to Get Wet...

Or eaten alive by mosquitoes.©Neil Ever Osborne, iLCP

Save Our Wild Salmon and the
International League of Conservation Photographers have joined forces to tell the story of the Snake River's one of a kind salmon and the place they call home.

Snake River Salmon: An Epic Migration

Little Redfish Lake ©Neil Ever Osborne, iLCP

Save Our Wild Salmon and the
International League of Conservation Photographers have joined forces to tell the story of the Snake River's one of a kind salmon and the place they call home.

Snake River sockeye make an epic migration each year to Redfish Lake in the Sawtooth Valley, climbing nearly 7,000 feet and swimming more than 900 miles to get there. To get a visual — that’s the distance from Denver to Chicago and higher than five Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of another.

In addition, these red fish tackle an eight-dam gauntlet on the Columbia and Lower Snake Rivers. The tenacity and determination of these fish is undeniable and at times unbelievable. It's no wonder that they are often referred to as the lifeblood of the Northwest's signature rivers.

©Neil Ever Osborne, iLCP

Yesterday, we hit up Dagger Falls on a late afternoon shoot, where Snake River chinook were jumping up the falls. It's endlessly inspiring to watch these fish launch themselves up a mass of churning whitewater over and over until they disappear through the current.

"Perched precariously on a rock with Dagger Falls whitewater below, I encountered for the first time the largest of the salmon species, the chinook salmon, demonstrating endurance and perseverance like no other animal. I now plan to help this story."

Neil Osborne perched over Dagger Falls. ©Emily Nuchols

The trip was a first for iLCP photographer Neil Osborne and Idaho Rivers United's Greg Stahl and I watched him from the bank. He would turn to us often, wide-eyed and grinning. And with every leaping fish and click of the shutter, it was clear that these iconic fish had found a new ally.

From watching Neil's encounter yesterday, I have to believe that if more people took a moment to watch these fish fight so hard to survive that they'd be encouraged to act. And that's exactly why we're here — to bring this epic migration home.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Snake River Salmon Bring It Home

© Neil Ever Osborne, iLCP

Save Our Wild Salmon and the
International League of Conservation Photographers have joined forces to tell the story of the Snake River's one of a kind salmon and the place they call home.

Since setting foot in the Sawtooth Valley this week, we've been on a mission to capture late spring wildflowers lighting up meadows, the pristine waters of rivers and streams cutting through the landscape and the grandeur of the rugged Sawtooth Mountains reaching up from the base of Redfish Lake. We're here to give a face to the name of the fight to save the Snake River's one of a kind salmon.
© Neil Ever Osborne, iLCP

Yesterday, we caught up with Ed Cannady, the backcountry ranger for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Ed has lived in or near the valley for more than 30 years and has logged more miles of backcountry trails in this place than pretty much anyone. Having racked up miles on every single trail in the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountain ranges (seriously), Ed's a walking, talking encyclopedia on all things involving wilderness and wildlife.

We hiked through sage and aspen to the top of a pitch near Boundary Creek and overlooking the Sawtooth range. With a storm rolling in, we took cover from the rain under a massive lodgepole pine. As we looked over the dark clouds looming at the peaks of the mountains, I asked Ed how salmon are connected to the landscape sprawling out below.
© Neil Ever Osborne, iLCP

"It's not how this landscape benefits salmon, it's how salmon benefit this land," he said. "Salmon are one of the most noble creatures out there. When you stand on the riverbank and watch this mother salmon digging her redd, knocking the flesh off her own body, it's overwhelming to think about what these fish take on to survive. We're the last generation who can save them. And I don't want to be the generation who witnesses the glaciers disappear from Glacier National Park, or see salmon disappear from the Salmon River, or sockeye disappear from Redfish Lake."