Integrated has a positive ring to it, doesn’t it. When we have integrated decision making, societies, and networks, it gives one the impression that every thing is working, as it should, for each part has importance and sureness of the whole. Some things are more easily integrated than others and some cannot be. For example, ivy is cannot be integrated into Northwest forests, even though people continue to plant it around their homes. Starlings are not something blue birds accept in their native landscape. Round pegs are not easily inserted into triangular holes, even though we may try.
In nature integration is being locally adapted to the environment that sustains an animal or plant, for its full life cycle is successfully completed when it is fully capable of coping with changes in seasons, weather, and the landscape. We have discovered that fir trees are adapted to elevation, location in reference to the sun, precipitation, and micro-habitats that provide the conditions needed to grow and reproduce. When seeds from a stand of fir or a species of fir is translocated to a site that does not meet all its needs it is less likely to survive and if it does it lacks vitality. One often sees western red cedar planted in uplands only to find them turning brown in a year or two. Trees are integrated into foreign landscapes only if their needs are met. To be fully integrated means that an animal or plant is able to cope with both short and long term conditions. Apple trees were planted and productive near Flathead Lake in Montana until an Arctic Express came one year after the sap was up and even though they had flourished for 20 years in that place they died. The evolutionary history of the apple tree did not include the periodic climate events of the Flathead country.
By de-coupling a plant or animal from its history means that it is not well integrated. It may perish when conditions are hostile to it or it can disturb the viability of native species around it like ivy growing up a Douglas fir or big leaf maple.
Mechanically forcing a round peg into a triangular hole does not create a good fit, just as our aspirations force native nature into the background. What happens to the native bees when we introduce domesticated bees that have disease the local bees are not able to cope with? What happens to butterflies and native birds when we create our perfect yard? We are engineering an environment that may not support the life that once called a place home.
I was called a cheat and a liar by second graders when I asked the class for their feelings after I took one dollar from a student and replaced it with a dime. We have invented mitigation to replace what is taken from the natural landscape. When I explained mitigation to the class in this way, they knew better than those who work for government agencies that mitigation does not work in their interest.
We are being asked to believe in integrated hatchery programs and mitigation for degraded habitat and lost native salmonid populations. In the march of time over the last 150 years of fish management on the Northwest Coast, we have been told that native salmon can be manufactured in a hatchery and not to worry because we can mitigate development of watersheds with hatchery replacement parts. The result has been a broad and remarkable depletion of salmon across our landscape.
Within the memory of some, a stage coach was turned over when fording the Rogue River as a push of migrating salmon swept it off its wheels. Not long ago, when wading an Alaskan stream, I remember the sound of salmon. I knew they were coming for they made a furious sound and pushed a wave of water ahead of them as they approached. All I could do was stand there hoping not to be dumped into the stream. Others were not so fortunate. When the big chinook that once called the Columbia their home above Kettle Falls and now above Grand Coulee Dam, the density of their redds created bars that stopped steamboats from passing up the river. We have forgotten the true abundance of salmon in our rivers; we have grown accustomed to ten cents on the dollar.
Some of us have made a commitment to wild native fish and the watersheds that nourish and hold them. I am sure you have, as I have, but the larger society has not. We have not yet invented a wild fish priority for our rivers. We are more concerned about what we do to them rather than what we do for them. The client of fish managers is the fisherman not the fish. When we develop recovery plans more emphasis is placed on the point of decline than abundance. We have made little switches in the wild salmon framework of survival in order to accommodate our cultural perception of salmon.
Today, we have defined salmon so they fit our conceptual framework. They have become a commodity rather than a natural economy. We have created an industrial model for salmon to fit into like they are brown shoes that can be manufactured.
We have dedicated ourselves to making sure rivers do not get the spawners they need, for low abundance means higher juvenile survival. This works in theory but not in practice for it overlooks the values of cleaning the gravel of fine sediments by the spawners and the nutrients they bring from the sea to nourish the rivers their young will grow in. It overlooks the seasonal food supply salmon bring to watershed for wildlife and the enrichment of the forests. As the salmon decline the bears also decline. It overlooks the fact that salmon have nourished the Northwest landscape and that salmon evolved with their abundance being fully expressed.
We are now being asked to accept another untested theory where wild salmon are needed to improve the survival of the hatchery stock and adopting a formula for allowing a proportion of the hatchery fish to have sex with wild salmon. It is called the integrated hatchery. It is based on what has always been done but improved by a mathematical formula. In the past wild salmon were expendable. The number of spawners were what was left over after fishing. Since salmon were believed to be interchangeable, it made no difference how many hatchery fish spawned naturally with wild salmon. This cultural framework dominated salmon management and still does. It was not until the runs were reduced to levels that threatened extinction and listed as endangered that there has been a general panic among the government agencies responsible for salmon management. The question became not how to recover wild salmon, but how to fit harvest and hatcheries, our industrial framework, within the legal context of the Endangered Species Act.
Being an ingenious species, we have invented the integrated hatchery. The hatchery has morphed into a conservation tool rather than one concerned only with production. We are told it will be possible to have both conservation and production, for we have learned that wild fish survived better in nature than hatchery fish, so by purposely breeding them together in a hatchery they improved the survival of the hatchery product. That took care of the sagging production problem. The conservation problem would be solved, theoretically, by allowing hatchery fish to spawn naturally with wild fish based on a formula. Even though we know this does not work due to an extensive research, the fish agencies have developed numerous integrated hatchery programs anyway. The motive for doing so needs to be explored before one accepts them at their word. The purpose of the integrated hatchery is to perfect the hatchery not to recover wild salmon. In this way the hatchery can be once again safely justified for continuing public funding because it fits the industrial model and can be sold as a conservation tool. Problem solved. The fact that hatchery and wild salmon have only one thing in common – water – is glossed over in our dedication to making the industrialization of salmon work.
De-coupling salmon from their families and their evolutionary history sets them up for decline and extinction. Our path is not the salmon’s path into the future. Wild is the future of the salmon and for having them in our future. There are no short cuts or partial measures to get there from here. As long as our industrial model of salmon management trumps nature, the salmon will fail, not because they lack the capacity to flourish, but because we are not providing the cultural permission for them to succeed.