The Salmon and the Sea Lion
Four NW congressmen, spurred by loud and uninformed special interest groups, are demanding the right to kill sea lions in the Columbia river, in direct violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). H.R. 6241, if passed, would allow up to 80 sea lions to be needlessly slaughtered each year, would begin the slide away from protections of marine mammal species, and would be exempt from any environmental reviews normally required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The killing could start as early as this spring. They say they are doing it to save the salmon. This is wrong. Just wrong.
Once, hundreds of thousands of sea lions swirled gracefully through the waters of the Pacific coast and even into the Columbia river, often following the thunderous runs upstream as the salmon joyously returned to their ancient source. Then, humans hunted the sea lions almost to extinction. Almost too late, the Marine Mammal Protection Act ended the bloodletting in the 1970s. And now, miraculously, now they are beginning to return to the shores of the oceans and the river. Yes. And now, we must choose whether to celebrate their return and welcome them back to their ancestral home, or to allow a nasty, territorial, aggressive little minority of the meanest sort of humans to blame and scapegoat them back into oblivion. We must choose whether to understand and respect the ancient rhythm of life in this land of ours, or to bludgeon it into something easier for us to comprehend but harder for us to live with. And we must choose whether to address what is really happening to the salmon, or to allow the power and agricultural industries to blame the sea lions while the last drop of water is sucked from the veins of Cascadia.
Anyone who has spent any time in harmony with the mighty Columbia understands that there is a pounding rhythm of life frolicking through her waves. The salmon are part of that rhythm. Since the beginning of time, the salmon have brought sustenance roiling up through her veins in crashing waves, season after season. It is the bounty of life, shared and celebrated among the fish, the birds of the air, and the mammals on her shores. Researchers are now discovering that the symbiosis between river and salmon and predator even nourishes the forests that once covered all of Cascadia all along her course. It seems that the carcasses and the
scat left by hunting and scavaging bears and other foragers supports a broad and complex ecosystem of insects, fungi, plants, and smaller animals deep into the forests. This system, in turn, nourishes the roots of the giant fir trees that once stood above all of Cascadia.
Yes, the sacred salmon are the lifesblood of the Columbia river basin. For thousands of years the runs have thundered into the river from the sea, in numbers as vast as the stars in the sky. And for thousands of years, the sea lions -- like the bears and the osprey and the eagles -- have come thundering after them. The salmon fed them all with their bodies, and their numbers never diminished. Century after century, millenia upon millenia, the dance of life continued.
Nature is miraculous in that way. Perfectly balanced, there is always enough for those who take only what they need. But nature does not support the gluttonous. And alas, the salmon are suddenly in peril. It was not the sea lions, though. It was the humans. Latecomers to the feast, and ever ready to take all that they can rather than only what they need. In little more than a century, the salmon have gone from limitless numbers to barely enough to sustain those who depend upon their sweet sacrifice. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) estimates that the runs have declined by 90%, and that even this number is overly optimistic, since 75% of the few remaining fish are hatchery-raised and therefore not carrying the genetic diversity and health of the wild salmon. (See http://www.psmfc.org/habitat/salmondam.html.) This year, as we all have learned, the run was late. Later than it has ever been. And terrifyingly weak.
It was the talk of the docks when wildlife managers finally and only temporarily closed the river to fishermen in a desperate effort to stop the bleed. And, just like last year, when the sea lions came thundering up after the run, the fishermen cried foul. How dare they eat so many fish! The salmon are nearing extinction, they suddenly and belatedly shouted. All at once, when personally threatened by the growing possibility that the salmon might really not come back next year, they woke from their sleepy denial and raised their fists in the air. This is our livlihood! This is our dinner! This is our sport! Ours! They took an ancient grace, a gift from God to the entire being of Cascadia, and they made it "theirs."
And they began giving out interviews calling for sea lion blood. Bumper stickers here and there appeared with a circle and slash over sea lion images. Talk started bubbling up through the corporate media about the possibility -- even, ridiculously, the "need" -- for the protections of the MMPA to be removed so that sea lions could be shot like they used to be. Some politicians are arguing that the sea lion population is close to what it once was, before the slaughtering and overly territorial humans appeared in their midst. Such strange arguing from both sides of their mouths, it would seem. Didn't those same politicians just help to remove the teeth from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on the grounds that it hadn't saved any species, that animals who fell under its protection are just as endangered now as before the act and therefore are probably just going to need to die off and make way for "progress"? How is it that the ESA did not manage to improve the lot of a single species, yet the MMPA seems to have caused at least this species to rebound to "historical levels"?
In fact, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The sea lions have, indeed, made a remarkable comeback once the humans were mandated to back off for awhile. Some estimates for their population run as high as 300,000, though most of that number reportedly live up in Alaska. This is wonderful, but it does not mean their numbers are anywhere near what they were before humans brought them almost to extinction in less than a century. Nor is it even relevant to the real problem with allowing this kind of "wildlife management." These are living beings, after all. Beautiful, graceful, and part of this ecosystem. (The celebration of the runs are meant more for them than for the fishermen.) They can feel, after all. Just like you and I. They have the capacity to suffer, and therefore we have a moral obligation not to make them suffer. To say that there are enough of them now that we can start shooting them again is similar in every way to saying that it's all right to shoot a few humans because, God knows, there are a lot of them. And since humans cause so much more damage to the salmon and the earth than sea lions, why not start with those?
Because either would be wrong. We cannot solve problems by butchering others. We try to all the time, it's true, but it's just wrong. And it never solves a thing. How much more "management" do we need to do before we finally realize that nature does not need our help, that every time we meddle in her business, the world is worse and not better for it?
It is easy to make a moral argument against the killing of the sea lions. The more we know about them, and their delicate social structures and their warm relationships with each other, the easier it becomes. But I was once admonished by a professor in college that we cannot make changes by relying on moral imperatives, because people often do not care about what is right. Instead, we must make enforceable claims. And so, I turn to the stone-cold, concrete facts that determine reality for some people.
The first fact that we need to understand is that salmon are going extinct because humans have overfished, overexploited, polluted, dammed, and otherwise made it impossible for them to sustain their existence. It has not been sea lions who suddenly burst upon the scene and brought their numbers down, it has been us. Therefore, any proposal that suggests that killing sea lions could help rebound their plummeting numbers is at best an ineffective bandaid, and at worst a cynical ploy by politicians who do not intend to address any of the real issues. If we listen to such a plan, we will wind up without sea lions OR salmon. We cannot trust the wildlife "managers" who allowed the salmon to be brought to the brink of destruction to now "manage" both species. Let us look at what really happened to all those salmon. We begin with logging, which has obliterated much of the ecosystem of Cascadia, and therefore bears much of the blame. But we will end with the dams, which, as we will see, are the one overwhelmingly inescapable factor in the disappearance of the salmon.
When searching for a culprit behind the disappearance of the salmon, one of the places people forget to look is high up in the mountains, above the once-clear streams. Logging, so much a part of the rape of Cascadia now, was never intended to be a part of this ecosystem. The salmon, like all of the beings of Cascadia, evolved in a world where thick, verdant forests held and nurtured the earth beside the streams. The great and ancient trees that grew out of the mossy, damp soil shaded the cool streams, and the green things on the ground filtered the runoff water that trickled into the clear mountain capillaries. This is where the tiny salmon have begun their journey for as far back as history can stretch. Now, the forests are gone. The trees have been stripped away, the forests laid waste, and all the beings who lived among them have been set adrift. The earth's skin up there, on the steep slopes, and down in the secretive canyons and the grottos, is laid bare and cut away. A thousand years of lush, fertile topsoil bleeds into the streams, silting the waters until they ooze like mud.
Even the timber industry concedes that logging has caused tremendous harm to salmon in Cascadia. Although they (erroneously) imply that things are better now, OSU's college of Forestry states, "Roads and timber harvests can increase the amount of sediment in streams. Removal of trees along streams causes higher water temperatures. Past logging practices such as splash dams scoured out entire streambeds, destroying salmon habitat"(source: http://www.forestlearn.org/watershed/salmon.htm).
The Canadian-based Wilderness Committee is even more explicit about the effect of logging upon salmon:
"Logging increases the likelihood of landslides by up to 15 to 20 times over what would occur naturally. Tree roots help anchor steep slopes and as these roots decompose after logging, landslides are far more likely for up to the next 20 years. Landslides dump debris in fish-bearing rivers down-slope, filling vital spawning beds with boulders, mud and logging debris. As forest companies exhaust ancient forests on valley bottoms, logging on unstable slopes is sadly becoming more and more common. Salmon also need the shade provided by large trees close to streams to maintain cool water temperatures, while live and dead trees help to stabilize stream channels. Logging often not only removes these trees but also fills stream channel with logging slash." (Source: Wilderness Committee, link to www.wildernesscommittee.org).
We humans always tend to believe that our intellect is a better guide than the ancient wisdom of the earth. And so, as we turn a blind eye to the profiteering madness of the timber barons, we believe that we can mitigate the damage by managing the forests to death. Until very recently, forest and wildlife "managers" counseled loggers to remove all logs (even those which had fallen naturally) from streambeds where they worked. It was thought that this would be better than the messy, natural streambeds for the salmon. Without the obstructions caused by fallen logs, scientists thought, salmon would have an easier time getting upstream to spawn. So loggers were touted as friends of the salmon. Now, though, we know what Nature has already known for millennia. The salmon do not return to streams that have been sanitized and managed into efficient highway systems. They cannot live there. They need the logs, the gravel trapped by the logs, and the whole forest ecosystem to survive.
It would almost be funny to hear fishermen complaining about the greed of sea lions. Almost. If humans weren't so dangerous. If their complaints weren't morphing into calls for sea lion blood. The fact is, humans catch and kill many, many times more salmon than do sea lions. But the sea lions are so much easier to blame. Columbia county, along with Clatsop, Coos, Tillamook, Curry, Douglas, Lane, and Lincoln counties all list "fishing" as one of the major forces in their local economies. Clearly, that means a lot of fishing is going on by humans, not just sea lions. It also means that a lot of peoples' livlihoods hang in the balance, so that all of us will be watching whether any real solutions are proposed for this crisis, or just scapegoats. In 1995, the last year for which I have been able to find reliable records, commercial fishing netted 240 million lbs of "product" here. That's 240 million lbs of fish taken from the local ecosystem that supports our community. That's many times greater than the number of fish that the few hundred sea lions in the Columbia river could ever hope to net. And, it's clearly an unsustainable level of commercial fishing. This does not even include the sport and recreational fishermen clustered in hog lines all up and down the river, nor does it include the number of fish caught by native american tribes who hold treaties to take thousands of fish with gillnets between the Bonneville and McNary dams on the Columbia. This number alone indicates that it is very unlikely that sea lions are having anywhere near the effect upon the native salmon as humans are having.
It's not just here in Cascadia that humans have brought fish populations plummeting down. Independent of any sea lion scapegoats, human predation of fish populations has destroyed entire species and torn the fabric of almost every marine ecosystem almost irreparably. In 1994, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that at least 70% of the world's fish were either "overfished" or "fully exploited." And in 2003, the journal Nature reported that fully 90% of the populations of large fish species have disappeared since industrialized fishing began. Huge swaths of ocean have been rendered nearly lifeless along the once-rich fishing coasts of nearly every nation in the world. Clearly, the loss of fish has nothing to do with sea lions and everything to do with human avarice.
Here in Cascadia, Oregon State University's extension service notes that industry pressures, over-fishing, and bad "management" practices have led to the precipitous decline of the salmon population. Their website notes, "There's probably no natural resource in the United States managed as intensively as the salmon in Oregon." And yet, the salmon have suffered rather than benefitted as a result of that management. Do we really want those same interests to start "managing" sea lions again? Do any of us really believe that the sea lions or the salmon will benefit from such management?
In 2004, we learned that the Bush administration planned to weaken protections on the precipitously endangered wild salmon by counting hatchery salmon along with them when determining whether the species merited protection under the Endangered Species Act. The reason they made this startling change is clear: Protecting endangered species is expensive and inconvenient for those whose profits depend upon exploiting the earth for its last drop of blood. Protecting salmon meant curtailing the fishing industry, curbing developments and limiting logging along streams, mitigating the damage done by dams and thereby cutting profits to power companies, and changing farming practices. That's why the timber industry, the power industry, and corporate agriculture all lobbied furiously to get the administration to count hatchery fish along with wild fish.
This has been a difficult issue for a lot of people to understand. A fish is a fish, the saying goes, so what's the problem? If you have this question, as I did, pay close attention here because it's really a very big deal. Beginning in the 1990s, scientists began to learn that hatchery fish were actually reducing the size of the runs, not increasing them as had been hoped by wildlife managers. In the words of Jan Hasselman of the Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation, "this policy will purposefully mask the precarious condition of wild salmon behind fish raised by humans in concrete pools." Aside from the obvious concern that continually restocking rivers with hatchery fish ignores the damage to the ecosystem that the salmon are warning us about, aside from the fact that the need to raise thousands of hatchery fish every year to pour into the water is a crazy and unsustainable bandaid, there are also very real concerns about the nature of the interactions between the wild and hatchery salmon, and about what that means for the genetic diversity and long term survival of the species.
A website devoted to promoting tourism in this region talks up the fishing here, but is then forced to note that much of the fishing in this area is played out. The site goes on to state:
"To mitigate the decimation of wild salmon runs caused by construction of dams and overfishing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yearly deposits billions of salmon eggs and young, propagated in nurseries, into natural breeding grounds and constructs fish ladders for the upstream journey of mature salmon. However, hatchery-raised salmon have aggressive feeding habits-that is, they spend most of their time at the water's surface looking for food unlike the wild salmon that spend most of their time in deep water or under cover. As a result, hatchery-raised salmon consume most of the food wild salmon need to live. At the same time, this aggressive feeding makes hatchery salmon more vulnerable to predators because they stay near the surface. Hatchery salmon usually have less genetic diversity than wild salmon, which can lead to lowered resistance to disease and other environmental hazards." (Source: http://www.kamperswest.com/salmon-fishing.html.)
In other words, the hatchery fish consume resources meant for wild salmon, and then succumb to predation and disease before replenishing the species. The hatchery salmon that manage to survive tend to produce a weak and sickly progeny, and this weakness is continually reinforced as more hatchery fish are dumped into the river each year in a desperate attempt to mitigate some of the damage done by humans. Therefore, any apparent short-term gain in salmon numbers is quickly nullified by dropping survival rates and an increased threat to the long-term survival of the species. Every year, the natural diversity of the wild salmon is reduced as more and more of the run is composed of weak and sickly hatchery fish, which are able to out-compete the wild salmon early on, but then die off. Another problem with hatchery raised salmon is that they are all released at the same time, which is contrary to nature's method of allowing the fish to hatch in their own time, over a period of days and months. So an unexpected flood, drought, or other problem could wipe out the entire run. Still another problem is that salmon tend to evolve and adapt to the conditions of their one ancestral stream. Each line has its own stream somewhere, high up in the mountains, to which it will return to spawn. But hatchery fish are often harvested from fish of one line, and then released into a stream belonging to another line. So they might return at an inappropriate time of the year, since it is not in their blood to remember when this stream is right for spawning. These fish are also often released earlier than wild salmon can hatch, so they are larger and and more able to drive off wild salmon, which then starve.
More alarming still, hatchery conditions are conducive to diseases that can spread to wild populations. The unhealthy and unnatural environment of fish hatcheries makes the administration of regimens of drugs to the fish mandatory. Even at that, resistant and virulent strains can creep out of the hatchery and infect the entire run. Some biologists consider this to be a ticking time bomb.
Beyond the dangers that hatchery salmon pose to wild salmon, there are also very real concerns about dangers that they pose to those who eat them...including humans. It turns out that the flesh of hatchery salmon does not resemble that of wild salmon at all. While proponents of weakened protections on wild salmon claim that the hatchery fish are genetically identical, the truth is that these fish are much, much different than their wild cousins. They are fed a diet high in fish oils and additives, plus unhealthy doses of antibiotics, pesticides and disinfectants that wind up in the hatchery water. As a result of their unhealthy diets, the flesh of salmon raised on fish farms is a sickly white, not the bright orange that we think of when we think of salmon. (In order to make it palatable to consumers, farmed salmon are then fed a mix of synthetic dyes to turn the meat from white to orange.)
But it isn't just the color that causes concern. In truth, farmed salmon flesh is believed to be the most PCB-contaminated source of protein in the US food supply. PCBs, long banned in the US, have persisted in the environment, and are known carcinogens. They cause birth defects, nervous system disorders, and other nastiness. Farmed fish contain much higher levels of PCBs than wild fish, for the same reason that domestic cattle have a much higher risk of catching mad cow disease than their wild ancestors. That is, they are force-fed each other. The meal served to farmed fish is often made up of other fish, ground into pellets, and full of increased levels of the oily fat that stores PCBs. In addition, farmed fish tend to be fatter than wild salmon, so their bodies hold more toxins that are then passed on to those who eat them. Hatchery fish that are released when very young tend to store less of this than fish that are kept on farms for longer periods. Still, though, they are not as safe to eat as wild salmon. What's more, as study after study has demonstrated, hatchery fish do not increase the odds of survival for salmon as a species. They do the opposite. The number of hatchery fish who return from the ocean to spawn is greatly reduced from what it would have been, had the fish had the genetic and environmental advantages of wild salmon.
Now, we come to the real nitty gritty. The one most important, and most controversial adversary to the survival of the salmon. It's no accident that the plan to kill sea lions is envisioned to begin at the foot of Bonneville, the great dam herself. It is to be the place of showdown between the real reason that the fish are disappearing, and the scapegoat taking the blame. No one wants to hear it, but increasingly, anyone who takes the time to learn about the issue cannot escape the reality that it is the dams that are killing off the runs. Not the sea lions, but the dams. According to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC), as much as 70% to 95% of the salmon killed by humans in the Columbia basin have been killed by the construction and operation of dams. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the greatest dip in numbers of salmon coincided with the construction of dams beginning in the 1930s and stretching into the 1970s. Oregon State university's extension service explains, "There is little good that can be said about the effect dams have on salmon populations," ( http://eesc.orst.edu/salmon/human/dams.html). OSU goes on to list the ways in which dams kill and weaken the salmon: First, they block passage upstream to the ancient and mysterious places where the salmon have always gone to replenish their numbers and rejuvenate the runs. The Grand Coulee dam, for example, permanently blocks 1,100 miles of Columbia river habitat. The Hells canyon dam permanently blocks another 2,000 miles in the Snake river basin. Indeed, the whole system of streams and waterways stretching across Cascadia has been blocked and obstructed by dams. So the adult salmon returning from the ocean cannot get back to their ancestral breeding grounds.
But the dams also block the young salmon as they try to make their way to the sea. When they are ready, the juvenile salmon traditionally set off on an epic journey to the ocean that takes them from the shallow, quiet streams high up in the forests, down to the deep and thunderous Columbia, and eventually out into the ocean where they will live and grow for years before returning to their native streams. Along the way, environmental cues set off miraculous physiological changes that allow the salmon to adapt to life at sea. They will change from being fresh water fish to being able to live in the ocean. There are a lot of dangers along the way, but the salmon have adapted to most of them. They can live with the predators, the pounding rapids, the temperature changes, even the change from the river to the sea. The one thing they cannot seem to live with is the dams. According to OSU,
"On the Columbia-Snake system, juvenile salmon that remain in the river on their downstream migration must pass eight dams. An estimated 10 to 15 percent die passing through the turbines at each dam--which means 60 to 70 percent of those fish will never reach the ocean."
These are staggering statistics. Two-thirds of the run is eaten alive by the dams. As much as 70% of the young salmon never survive to replenish the species. This does not even take account of the salmon that will die at the foot of the dams on the way back upstream. This is only the downstream toll. Every year, the runs dimimish more, because fewer and fewer fish are born. But even this is not the whole story. In addition to the salmon that will never be born, and the salmon that will be chewed up in the turbines of the dams, there are other hazards. Again, according to OSU,
"The dams also create a series of lakes, slowing the current and delaying downstream migration. The delay interferes with internal biological changes that enable the young salmon to survive in saltwater. In addition, the slack water exposes them to northern pikeminnows, also known as squawfish, and other predators, including several introduced species, walleye and bass."
Finally, the irrigation associated with dams along the Columbia has proven to be devastating for the fish as well. When farmers suck the water from the reservoirs to moisten the parched desert enough for agricultural uses, they often suck the fish right out with it. There have been numerous instances in which tens of thousands of young salmon were sucked through pumps and out into farmers' fields to die there. In 1992, for example, 44,000 young fall chinook died in a field on the lower Umatilla. There has been an effort to screen the pumps since then, but it still happens from time to time.
Indeed, dams appear to contribute more than any other factor to the decline of native salmon populations. Even the rapacious overfishing by the commercial fishing industry has probably not caused as much damage to the salmon as these dams. Sometimes, the salmon that manage to survive simply give up. They never go to the ocean, never mature into the beings they were born to become, and never join the once mighty runs coursing back up through the river to sustain us all. Clearly, if we care about the salmon, something must be done about the dams.
And herein lies the real issue. Because the most obvious answer to the declining salmon population is the removal of all those dams. But that would be expensive, and would impact the profits of some of the most powerful corporate interests in the region. Enormous profits are generated from the electricity, irrigation, and commerce centered around the dams. And those profits buy a lot of clout, a lot of influence, and a lot of the ear of the corporate media. Apparently, they can also buy congressmen. That's why we hear about those darn sea lions sitting at the bottom of Bonneville dam waiting to eat the salmon, but we do not hear about those churning turbines that have already taken out 70% of the runs. We are asked to blame the sea lions when we see them bursting joyously through the water, clenching a fish in their jaws, but we are not reminded that they were drawn here by the stench of dead fish bits ground to a paste and spit into the current like dinner at sea world. Nor are we reminded that the salmon and the sea lion have always lived together, that there was a harmony and balance between them until the dams came. Congress debates the possibility of "managing" sea lions to death, but does not broach the subject of breaching the dams. You can bet that there is some frantic and high-stakes lobbying going on over this very issue right now. Who do you think will win the argument? The rich power corporations and corporate agriculture? Or the unarmed sea lions.
It isn't only corporate interests at stake, either. Many of us enjoy cheap and relatively clean electricity from those grinding turbines. And, there is something else at play here. The dams are big, expensive monuments to human ingenuity. They were designed and built to last for all time, to testify to the earth that Humanity has arrived. On some level, it's very hard for most people to imagine tearing them down. That would be, in the most concrete sense, an admission that maybe we're not mightier than nature after all. Maybe we really don't know what we're doing after all. Not only that, but our masculinist culture revolves around images like this one. The ancient, fertile, feminine waters of the earth invaded and conquered by the stone and steel of Man. To tear that down? To admit that maybe the river is stronger and wiser after all? There is something very like a castration to it all. Such a big and important gesture as a dam...torn down? It hurts. But it just might be the only way to save the salmon, the sea lions, and us.
Some researchers claim that there may be ways to redesign the dams to protect the salmon. Some of the proposals include:
- Screening the dams so young fish are kept away from the turbines.
- Spilling more water and more salmon over the dams during migration
times, rather than collecting them for barging.
- Increasing water velocity during salmon migration. This is most
effectively done by temporarily drawing down the water levels in the
reservoirs behind the four lower Snake River dams by 30 to 40 feet and
by reducing the water level of the John Day reservoir by 5 to 7 feet.
Recently, researchers are experimenting with fish slides that would allow the salmon to slide through the spillways with less trauma than traditional methods. Maybe it will turn out to be less of a fiasco than catching them and driving them around the dams has been. Who knows.
Other researchers, however, believe that these measures fail to address many of the problems associated with dams on the rivers -- the creation of artifically deep, warm, slow-moving pools, the lengthier journeys to the ocean, the destruction of suitable gravel beds for spawning and other essential habitat, etc. In other words, they say, the only way to save the salmon is to breach the dams. Like the fatty deposits that can clog human arteries, these concrete artifices unnaturally restrict the flow of the lifesblood of the Columbia river basin. They stop up the water and deaden the rhythm and pulse of the living river.
This is an organic problem, needing an organic solution. It is not just the fish who are suffering from the dams, it is an entire ecosystem, from the ground up. This region was born along the banks of a freely flowing river. Everything about the world of Cascadia is adapted to live in a land where the rivers and streams flow unobstructed. To meddle too much with that is to court disaster.
Some of the problems associated with breaching the dams include loss of electrical power generated by the dams, loss of irrigation in the arid, eastern croplands of Cascadia, and difficulty with shipping traffic in the upper Columbia. Naturally, all of these losses would impact the profits being made from the power, agricultural, and shipping industries all along the river. That means that there is tremendous political pressure to avoid addressing the issue of salmon extinction through the breaching of dams. Much cheaper, easier, and more politically expedient to just blame the sea lions. But such mindless scapegoating also has its costs. Because if humans start hunting sea lions to extinction again, it will only be a matter of time till the sea lions are gone, the salmon are still in decline, and we are back at this table again wondering how foolish politicians and wildlife managers could have gotten it so wrong. It may be that the only effective means to bringing back the salmon is to breach the dams.
BACK TO THE SEA LIONS
So let's see. The fishing industry, the agricultural industry, the power companies, the timber industry... or sea lions. No wonder politicians would rather let the public believe that it is the sea lions' fault that the salmon are declining. It's much easier, even if wholly ineffective, to scapegoat and kill the defenseless sea lions than to take on any one of these industries. But who will be next? Who will be next to be sacrificed on the altar of human avarice? When killing sea lions does not bring back the salmon, who will be the next to be scapegoated and targeted? Will it be the osprey? The bear? The bald eagle? Because all of them eat salmon too. Again, this ecosystem evolved around the yearly feasts brought by the salmon from the sea. We cannot hope to "save" a part of it, the salmon, by methodically removing every other piece of the puzzle. We can only save the salmon by bringing ourselves back into balance with the earth and our surroundings.
And before we can save the salmon, we must save the sea lions. From ourselves. For whatever it's worth, I'm asking you to please call your congressional representatives immediately and demand that they protect the sea lions. Tell them to vote against H.R. 6241. And if they do not, then meet me in the spring at the foot of Bonneville dam. We must make them stop this foolishness, one way or another. If they will not hear our voices now, then they will be met with our boats and our kayaks and our rafts and our fists. They must not be allowed to murder sea lions. Too many of us care too much.
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