Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by Nate Buchanan, Nov 16, 2013.
Beware the shifting baseline. While it's certainly good news, "the largest return since 1992" is hardly grounds for celebration. What do you suppose the returns were like in 1910 before construction of the Elwha dam? Jim Lichatowich describes the problem of perception created by the shifting baseline in his latest book, "Salmon, Place, and People".
At first glance I would think that a shifting baseline should be the norm as we either encroach on, or restore salmon habitat.
Considering 1992 as a baseline figure has nothing to do with the health or the recovery of salmon runs in the Elwha. It is a good thing that salmon are spreading into areas that have been newly opened to them but to tout "one of the strongest returns since 1992" is nothing more than feel-good propaganda. In 1992 only three miles of spawning water were available to the salmon and, since most of those three miles were seriously depleted of gravel and nearly all of the returning fish were hatchery stock, the comparison is absolutely meaningless. Let's wait for three to five years when the first of the chinook spawning this year might be returning to to celebrate.
While I don't disagree with the caution that Preston clearly states, let's also celebrate small successes. While the prediction was that chinook would use these streams to which they had no access for many decades, the fact that they have used these creeks to build redds is positive. We all know that salmon have complex life histories and the next step is to see how well the young chinook survive in the river with its extensive silt load.
Frankly, I'm more interested in hearing if chinook (and steelhead) are making it on their own above Rica Canyon and the Grand Canyon of the Elwha. These stretches above the Glines Canyon dam are pristine habitat but require the fish to pass a strenuous physical test.
While the one of the strongest return since 1992 is better than one of worst since 1992 it is important to put the returns to the Elwha in perspective.
Work on removing the dam began in 2011; completed in 2012. Which of course means that the Chinook returning this year were produced by that same 3 miles of river and a hatchery as they have been for decades. The 2013 pre-season forecast for the terminal Elwha Chinook run was 2,556 (88% hatchery). With 1,741 Chinook spawning in the river and another 1,930 Chinook to the hatchery the actually returns were significantly better than expected.
The really important question is how will those fish spawning in the river do in producing wild Chinook in 2017 and beyond. The better than expected Chinook return this year is another indication that marine survival for Puget Sound Chinook seems to be improving. It would be a great aid to the recovery of Elwha (and other Puget Sound Chinook) if indeed we entering a period of improving marine survival for those Chinook fry/smolts that the river produces.
Once again, Mother Nature proves that she is in control. If we keep our hands out of the mix, things will go a lot better. Given half a chance, the salmon will come back. I suspect that we are not really as wise and we would like to think we are.
upper dam is not fully gone so it's gonna be next years return that has a chance to get to the pristine habitat upstream of glines canyon dam on their own.