Connection to Place

A wild salmon is a perfect reflection of its environment. It is a product of water and gravel, predators and prey. It is refined by its trek to the sea, its ocean-spanning odyssey, and its miraculous return to its natal stream. And, even after it has given up the ghost, its body sustains an entire ecosystem, nourishing not just the life in the stream, but the plants and animals surrounding it.

A wild salmon is inextricable from its homewaters. For 15 million years, salmon have maintained that fundamental connection to place, besting ice ages and earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions. This connection makes salmon durable and it hones them for survival. As a community, working to protect and restore salmon, we cannot disregard a salmon’s connection to place and still hope to save them.

All this is backed up by hard science. Earlier this year, Dr. Mark Christie published a landmark paper that identifies the repercussions of breaking the connection between a wild fish and its homewaters. Researchers recorded more than 700 genetic changes in steelhead spawned from wild parents, but raised in a hatchery. After just one generation, the fish had been tamed by their surroundings. The concrete walls, regular food supply and crowded conditions eroded the animals’ ability to heal, fight off disease and metabolize food. When we break the connection to place, we break wild fish. Before we invest in or advocate for salmon recovery, we must first ask ourselves if our efforts support the salmon’s natural way of life. Too often, human intervention alters and even replaces it.

Our model, grassroots activism, is also defined by a connection to place. Like the fish we advocate for, we are bound to our homewaters. Through our River Stewards Program, the Native Fish Society works to foster that connection. The method is tried and true. The most important conservation victories in history started with individuals and small groups of concerned citizens, who cared about a place.

Ed Abbey loved the desert canyons of southeast Utah and John Muir loved the Sierra Nevada. The Campbell River had Roderick Haig-Brown and the North Umpqua has Frank and Jeanne Moore. Their names alone conjure images of the places they fought for. Like the native fish we work to protect, we are stronger as a community because we are organized river by river across the Northwest. In 2017, we hope to foster your connection to place.

Only healthy, diverse and abundant wild fish have ever succeeded in providing the economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual enrichment that make these remarkable fish icons of the Northwest. In 2017, our grassroots activism will focus on reviving the icon by honoring its connection to place.

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