Portland celebrated Earth Day with high volunteer turnout as the Johnson Creek Watershed Council (“JCWC”) tilled the soil, putting down Ash tree, native grasses and shrub roots at the mouth of the creek where it meets the Willamette River. The JCWC has been a forerunner for salmon restoration efforts in the Portland region and has served as a premier example in Oregon for the transformative effect of volunteerism and local compassion for habitat renewal, sustainability, and species co-existence particularly in an urban environment.
This Earth Day weekend provides Oregonians a special opportunity to reflect on our vision for the state’s rivers and tributaries – perhaps our most precious resource here in the Northwest. Oregon’s waters have irrigated our farms, brought energy to our homes and businesses, and have made possible the transportation of goods across the state. The times, however, are largely different from those when the first federal levees rose out of the waters of the Columbia River by the Public Works Administration and President Roosevelt’s New Deal during the 1930s.
Over the previous five to ten years, much effort has been made to remove four obsolete dams on the lower Snake River: Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite. Their removal could bring such potential benefits as new nature tourism and fishing, outweighing the costs of dredging backed-up silt and dam maintenance. However, these dams remain standing today. And our fish populations continue to bear the impact.
A chasm stands between what we, as those who live and are sustained by the river, desire for our future and the removal, not merely of dams, but of outdated ideas. New ideas must take shape that meet our energy demands but that leave our rivers flowing more like rivers and less like a gauntlet for fish. As we learn to become less energy dependent and, likewise, as energy is created at a more local level and stored in a more efficient manner, perhaps our need to dam their flow will wane. In the meantime, politicians, elected and appointed officials, and administrators must take bold steps, perhaps even overturning unpopular international treaties regulating flood control, in order to realize our vision for a renewable and sustainable Oregon.
Today, Oregonians are uniting behind the salmon and wild fish populations that are crucial not only for the full expression of our rivers and streams but also for the future generations of our state. Our uniting begins and ends with the time we volunteer restoring these waters. Our uniting begins and ends in local efforts such as those of the Clackamas County Democrats, who, last Thursday, voted to endorse a different kind of levy (Measure 26-152) that would be used to enhance the renewal and restorative efforts of organizations like the JCWC.
To paraphrase from David James Duncan’s inspiring keynote address to the “Extinction Stops Here” rally in 2006, we’ll give up fighting for the salmon’s birth rivers and safe passage to the sea on the same day we see a wild salmon give up migrating. And we all know that they will never give up.