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United for Salmon: Preserving the Pacific Northwest

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. This blog entry spotlights some of the exciting work our grantees are doing with support from the LEX-NG Fund.

Here’s a question for you. What local resource has the greatest potential to unite people of the Pacific Northwest? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not coffee, the killer music scene, or rain.

It’s salmon.

That doesn’t sound right, you may be thinking. But in fact, people from all over the Pacific Northwestregardless of age, culture, vocation, or political affiliationare stakeholders in their local salmon populations; they all have something to fight for when it comes to preserving this critical species and its river habitats. Perhaps we all do.

Salmon is an important food source for many species of mammals and birds in the Pacific Northwest, including osprey. If salmon populations are healthy, so are the surrounding wildlife and populace. As salmon suffers, so does the entire ecosystem. Photo by Columbia Land Trust.
Salmon is an important food source for many species of mammals and birds in the Pacific Northwest, including osprey. If salmon populations are healthy, so are the surrounding wildlife and populace. As salmon suffers, so does the entire ecosystem. Photo by Columbia Land Trust.

Salmon is an “indicator” species; declining salmon populations point to an ecosystem’s deteriorating health. All manner of wildlife, not to mention humans, depend on salmon as an important food source. Beyond consumption, the presence of salmon in riversand on land as decaying leftovers from predatorschanges the chemical makeup of the terrestrial habitats and their watersheds. With fewer salmon, the landscape of the Pacific Northwest is significantly altered.

If their impact on the environment isn’t a compelling enough reason to support salmon preservation, how about some economics. The freshwater spawning habitats of salmon contribute to a $3 billion-a-year salmon fishing industry in the Pacific ocean. If salmon can’t access upstream spawning habitats then there will be fewer salmon to catch in the ocean, weakening the Pacific Northwest’s economy with ripple effects likely felt worldwide.

No matter how you look at it, salmon are integral to the health of the Pacific Northwest.

The bad news is that salmon populations are already in trouble. Thanks to years of human activity and river development, many crucial salmon spawning habitats have been diminished or eradicated. The good news is that there are already organizations on the ground fighting to preserve this iconic species.

With support from the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund, Columbia Land Trust, a regional nonprofit, is working hard to restore important salmon spawning, migration, and rearing habitats while galvanizing people to actively participate in conservation efforts.

The Hood River originates from the peaks of Mount Hood in Oregon and empties into the Columbia River, which flows to the Pacific Ocean. As part of the 400-acre Powerdale Corridor restoration project, Columbia Land Trust removed half a mile of decaying steel pipeline that was preventing salmon in the Hood River from accessing a historic floodplain used for spawning. Photo by Megan Saunders.
As part of the 400-acre Powerdale Corridor restoration project, Columbia Land Trust removed half a mile of decaying steel pipeline that was preventing salmon in the Hood River from accessing a historic floodplain used for spawning. Photo by Megan Saunders.

A big part of Columbia Land Trust’s salmon restoration project is dismantling human structures and restoring native habitats so rivers can return to their historic, salmon-friendly condition. One of their current projects is the restoration of a 400-acre property along the Hood River in Oregon. A decaying 2,600-foot-long, 10-foot-diameter steel pipeline was blocking the river’s flow to a natural floodplain, so the Land Trust removed it. This is roughly equivalent to lifting and relocating 50 semi-truck trailers: not an easy feat. Once the original habitat is restored and the project is completed, salmon will use the shallow waters for spawning.

The Land Trust also calls on volunteers for hands-on action. For example, a team of volunteers recently cleared out invasive vegetation from a tributary of the Hood River and planted over 1,400 native trees and shrubs. Thanks to help from these everyday citizens, the area is now a salmon-supporting habitat.

Another way Columbia Land Trust unites people in the Pacific Northwest is by encouraging landowners to conserve their riverfront properties through land donations or conservation easements. Conservation easements place restrictions on deeds that prevent the land from being developed now or in the future, ensuring its preservation for generations to come.

As it turns out, many people voluntarily choose to conserve their properties. Glenn Lamb, Executive Director of the Land Trust, finds his work with conservation not only important to environmental preservation, but also uplifting to the human spirit.

“It is so inspiring to see how, when given the respect and the chance, people from virtually every walk of life choose conservation: ranchers, foresters, hunters, fishers, city-dwellers, liberals, conservatives. This is truly hopeful work,” Lamb says.

Glenn Lamb, Executive Director of Columbia Land Trust, is not only inspired by the people he encounters in his work, but nature itself: “Every day I am inspired by the simple miracles. The beauty of a single feather, designed to the last small detail for flight, for warmth, or for waterproofing. The delicate balance of soil chemistry and the web of life, allowing mammal bone to become tiny snails, in turn becoming bird egg.” Photo by Columbia Land Trust.
Glenn Lamb, Executive Director of Columbia Land Trust, is not only inspired by the people he encounters in his work, but nature itself: “Every day I am inspired by the simple miracles. The beauty of a single feather, designed to the last small detail for flight, for warmth, or for waterproofing. The delicate balance of soil chemistry and the web of life, allowing mammal bone to become tiny snails, in turn becoming bird egg.” Photo by Columbia Land Trust.

Perhaps you’re actually in the Pacific Northwest as you’re reading this, but chances are you’re not. Wherever you are, you too can choose to support conservation. Just as salmon are integral to the ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest, so are all humans to the health of the planet.

Together, we can protect iconic populations of salmon, and preserve the wild beauty and stability of the Pacific Northwest.

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If you would like to learn more about Columbia Land Trust, or other projects supported by the LEX-NG Fund worldwide, please contact the Fund by email. To contribute to the LEX-NG Fund, click here.


Angela Thomas brings a background in education and law to the LEX-NG Fund, where she produces content for newsletters, blogs, and internal reports. Her passion for travel has allowed her to witness firsthand the critical need for environmental conservation in order to save the planet’s most precious places and resources. Angela holds degrees from Wellesley College and Case Western Reserve University.