The Columbia River salmon have always been a vital part of our heritage here in Clark County. In fact, they are a defining symbol of the Pacific Northwest. But today the wild fish are nearly gone, victims of pollution, urban growth, dams, logging, over-fishing, and other human activities.
In the lower Columbia region, Steelhead, Chum, Chinook, and Bull trout have been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA requires Clark County and other jurisdictions to ensure their actions don’t jeopardize the continued survival of these fish. Failure to take appropriate actions could results in fines or lawsuits to the county and its citizens. But saving salmon can also be an opportunity to improve the quality of life in our county.
ESA aside, why save fish?
To answer this question, we might answer some other questions first. For example, what do we want Clark County to look like 50 years from now? What legacy do we want to leave our children and grandchildren? Why can’t we just let the fish go extinct? Can we have a healthy economy without a healthy environment?
Maybe the fish could disappear and life in Clark County would be more or less the same. But salmon are good indicators of our own well-being, like the canary in the coal mine. The clean water and healthy environment that salmon need to survive are the same things we need for our own long-term survival. What’s good for fish is good for us.
If salmon go, what's next?
Even if all we needed to survive were cultivated plants and domestic animals, this would be a dull outcome to settle for. Although there is a cost to saving salmon and other wild species, there is also long-term economic and environmental value to safeguarding our ecosystems. Many businesses and individuals move to Clark County because of everything our environment offers. For some people, seeing wild salmon on their heroic return journey from the ocean — or simply knowing they exist — has a value that can’t be measured in dollars.
As a society, we have a choice as to whether or not future generations will enjoy clean waterways teeming with salmon. The county is working with community groups, individuals, and other jurisdictions on salmon recovery efforts balanced within the framework of social and economic reality. Some priorities include addressing water quality issues, ensuring adequate riparian buffers, and working with landowners and businesses on implementing best management practices.