For most people, “salmon” is an expensive, unnaturally pink piece of fish at the grocery store. It is a potential meal, detached from its context by thousands of miles. Even those of us who are lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest often have only a distant relationship to these iconic fish. However, there are places where we can bridge the gap and connect with an elusive and integral part of our history, culture, cuisine, and economy.
Just over an hour from Portland, and a mere 30 minutes from the fast-growing cities of Beaverton and Hillsboro, one can sit on an isolated stream bank and share hours with spawning coho salmon. For the uninitiated, this is an eye-opening experience that can open new ways of looking at the natural world on which we depend. However, these are also the last hours of the salmons’ lives. They travel over 100 miles up rivers like the Nehalem, the Salmonberry, the Trask, and the Wilson to spawn where they hatched 3-5 years before, dying in the process of continuing their line.
Oregon coastal coho are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. 2014 saw a very good return, but ocean conditions and inadequately protected inland habitat remain concerns for these fish. The Tillamook and Nehalem basins are producers of some of the strongest and most diverse wild runs of salmon in Oregon, but the emphasis given to industrial timber in the region threatens these strongholds.
Our publicly-owned north coast forests, the Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests, likely hold the key to salmon habitat in northwest Oregon. The management of these lands is currently undergoing a revision. Some stakeholders would like to see these lands managed with even more emphasis on timber production, a move that would likely harm wild salmon and take away the possibility of connecting with these fish.