Below the confluence of a tiny creek and the Chetco River, there is a long gravel bed adjacent to a fern-covered bank. Every December for the last four years, I make a pilgrimage to this spot to spy on spawning Chinook. e scene will never lose its magic. Conned to the clear, shallow water, their spotted backs break the surface as males joust and females dig redds.
Over generations, spawning salmon have not only perpetuated their own species, but also shaped the surrounding landscape. They enrich the soil, boost streamside biodiversity, and, according to a recently published study by Alex Reimer of Washington State University, they shape geology as well. Provocatively titled “Sex at Moves Mountains,” Reimer’s paper shows that over many generations female salmon will alter entire landscapes. Streams with salmon erode faster than those without them. Streams with big salmon, like Chinook, erode rapidly and exhibit the steepest banks of all.
A thousand generations of Chinook may have spawned at this bend in the Chetco River. Did the ancestors of the fish in front of me shape this riverbend, construct this gravel bed, and furnish the nutrients necessary for the ferns and the trees overhead? In the same way these native fish shape their homewaters, our River Stewards, staff and partners converge into something greater. Together, they shape the future of native fish recovery across the Pacific Northwest in a way that individual conservation efforts can’t.
Native fish are strongest where their homewaters converge. In 2018, Native Fish Society is strategically following suit by increasing convergence in our work. We will host more trainings for our nearly 90 River Stewards. We are adding two River Steward Gatherings, in the spring on Whidbey Island in Washington, and in the summer on the Scott River in northern California. At gatherings, River Stewards from around the region can share successful advocacy skills, discuss the latest research on native sh, and inspire one another. is year, we’ll even cross the border. For the first time, NFS will bring together advocates from both British Columbia and the American Northwest.
The challenges and opportunities shared at River Steward gatherings have evolved into some of our most significant victories for native fish. These include one million fewer hatchery fish every year in Oregon and Washington rivers, 2,200 square miles of Washington watersheds set aside for wild steelhead, and 22,000 miles of Oregon’s salmon and steelhead habitat permanently protected from suction dredge mining. When River Stewards converge, they make an impact.
This year, Native Fish Society is embarking on Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness work with help from the Meyer Memorial Trust, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, and the Center for Diversity and the Environment. rough a training session and the creation of a strategic plan for inclusiveness, we hope to increase our organization’s ability to welcome native fish advocates from all communities and walks of life. Our organization’s vision for the future - a future with abundant native sh in watersheds across the Northwest - is shared by many communities. It’s time that native fish fully benefit from that shared vision. It’s time for new alignments and unexpected strategic partnerships.
We believe this work is vital to our mission. Research confirms that diverse teams perform better and make better decisions. With the perilous state of native sh and the complex web of challenges they face, we need the best possible advocates and a unified voice. Now is not the time for fracture; it’s time to stand together for our shared homewaters.
Fundamentally, the River Steward Program is a platform for grassroots advocacy. Native Fish Society exists to provide stewards with the tools they need to make the biggest impact. To that end, we’re creating three new positions: two full-time regional staff positions, in both the Columbia River Basin and the state of Washington, and a third position that will keep River Stewards up to date on the latest scientific advances, so that our grassroots advocacy and the solutions we advance are always grounded in the best-available science.
I’m proud of the strides we are about to take as an organization. Of course, none of this would be possible without our members, supporters, and donors. We’re proud of and humbled by your faith in us. We want to honor that faith by maximizing the impact of every dollar. rough the convergence of our shared passion for wild, native sh, we can sustain the miracle of their return. Together, we can ensure that they continue to shape the land, enrich our lives and stir the imaginations of future advocates as they have since time immemorial.