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Endangered Species, Embroiled Region
TUCKED in the sundown shadows of the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho, Jack See has built a life many dream about. As owner of the historic Redfish Lake Lodge near Stanley, Idaho, See has prospered by serving trout dinners, renting boats, shuttling hikers and providing lodging for visitors to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The short, blond, forty-something lodge owner with a distinctive Fu Manchu mustache and his wife, Patty, have made Redfish Lake Lodge one of Idaho's best-known attractions. Idaho has grown steadily during the more than twenty years since See and his father took over the Redfish Lake Lodge, and the resort has benefited.
Nearby Boise has become one of the fastest-growing cities in the West, attracting several computer-technology manufacturing plants and serving as corporate headquarters for companies such as Boise Cascade, Albertson's Supermarkets and Micron Technologies. Ketchum and Sun Valley to the south have become the conduit for a stream of former Californians who have spilled into the state so they can have places like Redfish out their back doors. On summer weekends Redfish Lake Lodge is filled mostly with Idahoans heading for backcountry jaunts into the nearby White Cloud Mountains, sailing on the lake or simply sitting on the porch in front of the lodge to sun themselves and admire towering Mount Heyburn. As the main jumping-off point into the Sawtooth Wilderness, the lodge has become almost a headquarters for the state's environmental community. Each spring, a week before See opens the lodge to the public, the Idaho Conservation League holds its annual "Wild Idaho" conference there. In August the group returns 3 to hold a vigil at nearby Redfish Lake Creek, awaiting the return of the few remaining sockeye salmon. Campgrounds encircle the crystal-clear lake and the campers buy their groceries in See's small store and gas for their boats at his marina.
The placemats in the lodge explain how Redfish Lake got its name from the sockeye salmon and kokanee salmon that spawn in the lake. The fish turn bright red when they spawn, and historically the entire shoreline would blaze with color as thousands of fish filled the shallows to spawn. The kokanee live year-round in Redfish but the sockeye have always been only temporary residents. Young sockeye stay in the lake a little more than a year after hatching on its windswept shoals before migrating down the Salmon River to the ocean. If they are lucky, they will return in another two years. Sockeye were one of the attractions at Redfish Lake Lodge. In the fall, when the fish spawned, See used to take tourists on pontoon boat tours of the spawning beds. He would turn off the engines and he and his guests would marvel at the spawning pairs acting out their annual ritual. In the early 1980s, See realized that something was wrong. Suddenly the sockeye were gone. Civilization had caught up with the Redfish Lake sockeye. The eighth in a series of dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers was completed in 1975 and biologists said it was the final straw for Redfish's sockeye. Fewer and fewer fish were able to make the long trip between the ocean and the lake and back with the added perils posed by the dams. From 1975 through the early 1990s, the number of sockeye sharply declined; in 1989 none made the trip.
In 1991, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed Snake River sockeye salmon as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Since Redfish Lake is the only spawning ground left for sockeye in the Snake River drainage, the NMFS may take sweeping actions to protect the fish. It may limit the boating that attracts many of the campers to Redfish. Kayaks and canoes could replace powerboats and water-skiers. Idaho's Department of Fish and Game may discontinue stocking rainbow trout that provide sport for fishermen because the trout compete with young sockeye. Many of the recreational activities that attract people to Redfish Lake Lodge could eventually cease. Obviously, this will directly hurt See's business.
It might not have to happen, See hopes. Perhaps the fish can be saved without severe constraints on lake use. After all, it wasn't at Redfish Lake that the sockeye became endangered, See says; it's the rest of its long and precarious habitat that has become lethal. See may have to make only minor adjustments in his lifestyle and his business to aid the effort to save sockeye, and he says he's ready to do that. The sockeye are an important part of his life and worth some sacrifices; his lifestyle is tied to the raw, wild character that the sockeye represents. Though he may be more tied to this than others, many of the residents and economies of the Pacific Northwest are caught in the same dilemma as See. They want to preserve aspects of the Pacific Northwest that make it special and still earn a living that allows them to stay in the region.
In the 1990s, efforts to balance human progress with preservation of the earth and its wild inhabitants will affect virtually every resident of the Pacific Northwest. How the Endangered Species Act is enforced in this decade could affect everything from electricity rates and home-building costs to how much water is available to irrigate Idaho's famous potatoes.
Called "an American hinterland" by University of Idaho historian Carlos Schwantes in his wonderful history The Pacific Northwest, the region stretches from the vast old-growth forests of coastal Oregon and Washington to the Continental Divide country of Montana, to the blooming deserts of eastern Idaho and the natural wonders of Yellowstone. The natural character of most of the continental United States is already gone, replaced by megatropolises, giant farms and sprawling suburbs. Humans have spread throughout the United States, changing the landscape from one shaped by nature to areas mostly fashioned by human development. A few pockets remain, such as the Everglades and the Adirondacks, but even in the sparsely populated regions of New England, the upper Midwest and the South, massive timber harvests of the past or early farm development transformed the natural ecosystems into different, less diverse systems. Much of the interior West remains intact only because its lack of water and resources makes it useless to all but a few ranchers, miners and oil developers. Even so, the natural character of the Great Plains and the deserts has been changed by the replacement of buffalo with cattle and by past overgrazing, which has altered plant communities.
In the Pacific Northwest, human development was mostly concentrated along waterways and in the vicinity of ports for nearly 200 years. The mountainous topography near places such as Puget Sound in Washington and the Willamette Valley in Oregon acted as barriers to urban growth and gave even urban residents a sense of living next to the wilderness. Because of its isolation, it was not until the 1980s that the Pacific Northwest reached the stage in its development where wild, species-rich landscapes and waterways were changed forever by bulldozers, hydroelectric dams and condominiums. Even today, much of the hinterland remains.
The 1973 Endangered Species Act, which may shape the future of the Pacific Northwest, is designed to prevent the extinction of species, both in the United States and worldwide. Since Europeans arrived in the Americas, 500 plant and animal species have become extinct in what is now the United States, including the passenger pigeon, the great auk and the California grizzly bear. The rate of extinctions in the nation and the world is increasing, and with the loss of each species, humans lose priceless information and genetic material. Today's extinct species may have been tomorrow's wonder drug or miracle food source.
As of April 1, 1992, some 277 domestic animals and 243 domestic plants were protected under the act as endangered. Another 97 animals and 64 plants were classified as threatened. The Endangered Species Act also recognizes 528 species in other nations as endangered or threatened and thus protected under the act.
The law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the NMFS to list species and subspecies endangered of extinction or threatened to be endangered of extinction. The two agencies must attempt to restore viable populations of the listed species by protecting the remaining individuals and their habitat.
The future of the Endangered Species Act may rest on the outcome of the Pacific Northwest's environmental battles. In particular, the future of Pacific salmon and the act may be inseparable. With several stocks of Snake River salmon already placed on the endangered species list, restrictions imposed by the act literally could cover all activities within the Columbia River watershed. After the NMFS listed Snake River sockeye salmon as an endangered species, it listed Snake River chinook salmon stocks as threatened. Suddenly, because of the potential changes in operations of hydroelectric dams that provide much of the region's electricity, a law that had affected only the region's rural residents was extending its reach to impact the lives of every person who turned a light switch.
The effects of listing salmon won't be contained west of the Rockies and north of Big Sur. The fallout from the decision will spread beyond the borders of the Pacific Northwest to the entire nation. What happens to species such as the spotted owl, grizzly bear and Pacific salmon may indicate how serious Americans are about preserving their natural heritage. And as more and more people are asked to change their lives to make room for endangered species, the powers of the Endangered Species Act will be tested.
In the Pacific Northwest, the ramifications are widespread. Most plans to restore salmon stocks would force the operators of the Columbia and Snake river hydroelectric dams to alter their operations during spring salmon migration, costing Northwest ratepayers an additional 2 percent to 30 percent on their electric bills over the next decade. The region's $5 billion irrigated farming industry would have to extend pumping pipes and place fish screens on head gates and may have less water to use. Fishermen, already facing strict limits, may be forced to leave their boats in harbor or their nets on riverbanks for years to come. Navigation on the Columbia and Snake rivers may be restricted for at least a portion of the spring. Logging, grazing and mining on public lands could be curtailed.
Each region of the United States has a defining characteristic, says historian Schwantes—for example, in the Southeast, the history of the pre-Civil War plantation culture ties the region together. In the Pacific Northwest, Schwantes says, the environment is a defining feature—the rugged mountains, deep river canyons and wide, desolate, high-elevation deserts. The appreciation and enjoyment of the region's spectacular setting unite the region's people as nothing else does. Even as politics and philosophy divide them, their sense of place binds them together.
Although places such as Puget Sound have become heavily populated, manipulated and tamed, the powerful beauty of the region's natural wonders dominates both the emotional and physical landscape. Mount Rainier rises above the Seattle skyline calling urban hikers to climb to its peak. Portland fishermen still catch salmon in the Willamette and Columbia rivers. After work, Boise mountain bikers climb the mountains east of Idaho's fastest-growing city. On weekends, the region's urban residents head for the hills, rivers and lakes to play.
The giant tracts of still-uninhabited roadless land are important to the lifestyles of many Pacific Northwest residents who hike, climb, ski, ride horseback, hunt, fish, snowmobile, mountain bike or motorbike in the backcountry. A 1989 study by University of Idaho geography professors Harley Johansen and Gundars Rudzitis showed that counties containing federally designated wilderness areas outpaced other rural western counties in growth during the last thirty years. The study showed that most people said they moved to the wilderness county because of the enhanced quality of life. Rudzitis, in a draft paper written in 1992, said rural counties of the West in the 1980s grew faster than the rural counties of all other regions of the country and that the West's wilderness counties grew even faster than other rural counties—a remarkable 24 percent, or six times the national average of 4 percent for nonmetropolitan counties. Even for people who never set foot off the highway, the value of undeveloped mountain ranges filled with grizzly bears, caribou, bighorn sheep and elk plays an important role in their own ties to the region. The thought of wild animals such as these triggers striking recollections for people, whether based on an encounter in a national park or something seen on a television nature program.
During the 1980s the Pacific Northwest was one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. Idaho, Washington and Oregon were the third, fourth and fifth fastest-growing states in the 1980s, behind only neighboring Nevada and Alaska. More than 8 million people now live in the three states and western Montana. The growth rate appears to be accelerating rather than slowing into the 1990s and adds to the challenge of preserving the environment and meeting the needs of a growing economy.
Culturally, the biggest challenge comes as a consequence of the long-term shift from a rural land to an urban one. The population is concentrated in urban areas, leaving most of the region still relatively unoccupied. In his most recent book, In Mountain Shadows, Schwantes notes about Idaho that of its 53 million acres only one-third of 1 percent are urban, where most of its population growth is taking place. "The juxtaposition of the modern metropolis and the hinterland is, in fact, the defining quality of life in modern Idaho," Schwantes writes. The same could be said for the entire region.
The Pacific Northwest region can be defined in many ways. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which markets cheap, mostly federal hydroelectric electric power to the Pacific Northwest, defines the region as its service area, about 300,000 square miles in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Since its power grid has contributed to the regional nature of the area's economic development, this is a fair definition. The Columbia River drainage, perhaps a more natural regional boundary, covers 259,000 square miles in the seven states and British Columbia, an area larger than France and nearly as large as Texas. Conservation biologists, taking an ecosystem approach to the region, might define it differently, adding in areas where grizzly bears live east of the Continental Divide. Other huge, largely intact ecosystems, such as the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem beginning in Alberta and running into Montana, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, straddle the divide and naturally are tied to the Columbia drainage. Economically and even culturally, many people include Alaska in the region.
The climate of the Northwest is a study in contrasts. Along its coastline and east along the Canadian border, heavy rainfall sustains rain forests—the most productive in the world. But in the southeastern section, rainfall of only seven inches annually is not uncommon. The desert sections of Idaho, Oregon and Washington are more like the West's interior than what is traditionally identified with the Pacific Northwest. Yet some of the most productive farmland in the West lies in these areas, sustained by irrigation from the snowmelt of the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains delivered by the mighty Columbia and Snake rivers.
No matter how you look at the Pacific Northwest, the Columbia River system is the thread that binds the region together. The Columbia is the beneficiary of 150 tributaries large enough to be called rivers. In an average year the Columbia dumps enough water into the Pacific Ocean to cover 196 billion acres of land with one foot of water. The Columbia River and its tributaries contain 30 percent of the hydroelectric power production potential on the North American continent. The Columbia and Snake rivers deliver more goods by water than any other waterway on the continent save for the Mississippi. The Columbia itself is the fourth-largest river in North America. Only the Mississippi, St. Lawrence and Mackenzie rivers are larger. Yet even they can't match the Columbia's electricity-generation capacity because they don't drop in altitude so quickly.
Excerpted from Saving All the Parts by Rocky Barker. Copyright © 1993 Rocky Barker. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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