Pacific salmon run helps shape Canada’s ecosystems

Predators help disperse salmon, nutrient on streambanks

This article describes the results of a study suggesting another “trophic cascade” mechanism by which predators and salmon interact, enriching the diversity of plant-life in the world’s largest old-growth temperate rainforest:

Pacific salmon run helps shape Canada’s ecosystemsBBC News

The annual migration sees salmon return to western Canada to spawn, but many are caught by bears and wolves, which carry carcasses away from the streams.

This allows nutrient-rich plants to thrive in these areas.



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  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I asked at the IDFG Sawtooth Hatchery near Stanley last year if they took the spawned out carcasses of salmon upstream and discarded them to help fertilize the river and surrounding area.
    I was told that the carcasses were sold to be made into fish food. Money seems to be what drives the IDFG, not common sense.

    1. Daniel Berg Avatar
      Daniel Berg


      Out of curiosity, is that policy mentioned in writing?

    2. Ken Cole Avatar

      The salmon from the South Fork of the Salmon are left in the river. Depending on how many there are they generally are eaten by bears unless there are a very large number. Wolves have also been known to carry a few away as well.

    3. Ken Cole Avatar

      I think the big reason why they do it differently at the Sawtooth Hatchery is because of disease. If they were to put the dead hatchery fish back in the river they would be increasing the potential for disease in the hatchery because they get their water from the river. This is not the case with the South Fork because they take the eggs back to McCall to raise them.

  2. Salle Avatar

    I can’t get into the subscriber’s portion of the web site but the Fisheries journal, either January 2000 (I think it was that one) or January 2001; there was an article that I cited while giving testimony on the breaching the four lower Salmon River dams to a panel of alleged authorities. It was a study done on the validity of the claim that salmon are a keystone species. The study concluded that salmon feed not only the predator base that is mentioned here but also that otters were seen to “time” their reproduction with the return of the salmon in order for them to have food for their young. Not only that, they also found that everything, from microbial life forms from aquatic to those on the land… ei, those that bring about the decomposition of detritus on the forest floor feed on the remains of spawned out carcasses. In addition to all of this they found that the nutrients needed by the flora/trees of the headwaters where salmon spawn ~ phosphates and nitrates in particular ~ are ocean derived and the only vector for the arrival of these nutrients is the salmon which feed while in the ocean… they don’t feed on the way to spawn so it all comes from the ocean. Without these nutrients, the trees have been subjected to a form of starvation due to the severe decrease in the arrival of these nutrients via the salmon return. The trees, in particular, were found to be lacking in certain immunities to disease and pests… kind of like HIV/AIDS. And folks wonder what’s happening to all the dying forests with disease and inability to fight off beetle infestations and other tree killing issues… here’s at least part of the answer. It was pretty serious set of findings in my view – and that was at least ten years ago. I see it as one of the primary causes of the tree diseases/deaths in central Idaho forests and elsewhere in the region. No salmon = no forests after a half century.

    I’ll never forget how the eyebrows of the panel went up when I got into the meat of this argument during my two minutes of testimony. Not that they really cared that much since nothing really happened afterward. I see my testimony was “recorded” by a court reporter person who really did a crappy job of recording testimony since what comes up in the transcripts looks like I couldn’t even speak or think in English, probably on purpose; what was “recorded” as verbatim isn’t even close to what I said. (Let those who speak at public hearings take note, if the “court reporter” is taking you comments down, better check and make sure they “record” what you actually said or submit in writing so that what you say makes sense to others.)

    1. Savebears Avatar

      One thing that I have done for years when giving testimony is take a micro recorder with me and inform the panel, I am also taping the testimony, now I use a digital recorder that has the ability to date stamp the recording. learned my lesson one to many times while in the army about that!

      1. jon Avatar

        hi sb, sent you an email.

    2. Salle Avatar

      Oops!! CORRECTION: “January 2000; there was an article that I cited while giving testimony on the breaching the four lower Salmon River dams to a panel of alleged authorities.

      I Meant: the four lower Snake River dams. I was thinking upriver and into the Idaho wilderness where the salmon try to go…

  3. Doryfun Avatar

    Thanks for making that correction. I was about to offer that up, but figured you had made a memory/writing error and not bad information error. I too went to the ground zero hearings on dam removal in Lewiston, way back when, and that in itself is an interesting story ( too long for here). But, one real gem was when Otter (then a Lt Gov) got up at the front end of the meeting and said he represented the people of Idaho, and dams were not coming out, then shortly thereafter left the meeting (and the supposed people he represented – though many of us were in favor of breaching). Then an older Nez Perce who remained for the entire meeting, as did all other Nez Perce in the room, got up and drew attention to this fact – that Nez Perce leaders always listen to al their people, not just make a speech about such, then leave without really listening to everyone. Now that Otter is Gov he hasn’t changed a bit in
    governing for Idaho citizens. Drill baby drill could be his motto too. Industry all the way.

    The anadromous fish issue and dam breaching, and its tie to the megaload issue is very big, and is why I have tried to ignite more interest about Heart of the Monster and Fighting Goliath. If highway 12 is established as an industrial corridor for the megaload crowd, it will be one more reason given against breaching, anytime that issue is put on the table for trying to help fish.
    The tentacles of corpratocracy are often dark subtlies hidden in the mist that covers most of our fish and wildlife problems.

  4. Doryfun Avatar

    Forgot to mention, yes, I agree about the testimony given at these meetings. Often is seems more like just an exercise in walking through all the legal parameters to satisfy a project. Decisions and directions are often made up before public meetings, so testimony is often just appendic X for catalogue purposes. I’m about to give up going to public meetings, anymore. (I try more to participate at the front end of issues, when things are being formulated before public comment periods whenever possible; though often not).

  5. Doryfun Avatar

    The Salmon River (named after such) was re-opened for salmon fishing (after about a 30 + year closure to protect endangered wild fish) back around early 2000. Each year fisheries biologists would hold a meeting in Riggins to get feedback from any interested public (especially the nexus of local fishing guides) regaring various aspects of the fishery.
    Early on I suggested putting fish guts back into the river, for all the reasons mentioned in the story and comments here, as well as carcasses when filleted (when approriate – as fish must be intact for transit). I have always felt that fish or wildlife remains should go back to where they came from, and not disrspectfully in some landfill.

    That season, IDF&G did make that change, so fish parts could go back into the river. So, sometimes input at some public meetings do actually have an impact. Rare, but possible.

    1. Salle Avatar

      Doryfun, I didn’t notice my error until I had come back from my ski outing a few hours later when I got back online and re-read the post…

      Interesting as well, I have seen my words from public hearings and other meetings with F&G etc. show up in legislative texts, verbatim.

      Also, I agree with your sentiments on how the public hearing system works. Too painfully true.

      I went to a hearing on the dams in Idaho Falls, way back when, and the place was packed, testimony went on for five hours… and there were two recording booths for those who couldn’t wait for a turn or they ran out of paper for sign-up sheets. What I found telling from the get go was that there were over two hundred Shoshoni, and others, there who soundly reprimanded the panel for the lack of proper representation of the “trust” that they claimed to hold for the Native Americans who have been here for thousands of years. FOLLOWED BY a group of “irrigators, from three generations back… wow… who claimed that there livelihoods were at stake over fish! I got pretty riled over the arrogance of these water takers who totally glossed over the Shoshoni testimonies as though they didn’t even exist, and if they did notice them, these irrigators were all for dismissing them as a nonentity. SO I opened my statements with, “Did you not hear what these elders and the original inhabitants had to say? Does this not matter to you in your administrative role?” Afterward I announced that I was a third generation American and that I was appalled at how the dominant society treats these original people and their heritage/resources/treaty rights. Then I began my citation and argument on science based points. Like I said earlier, the transcripts don’t really represent any of what I actually said. I sat among the Native Americans who made up at least a third of the enormous crowd, and commiserated with them.

  6. Doryfun Avatar

    One of my favorite quotes: ” An (eastern Washington) farmer came in and told me how hard his grandfather worked to make a homestead three generations ago, and how things could go belly-up if the Snake River dams were breached. I told him about my grandfather, who worked the same hard way to make a living fishing the Columbia, and he was a 700th generation fihserman. My grandfather went off to fight World War II for this country, and when he came back he found his business underwater, flooded by the federal dams.” – Donald Sampson, fish biologists Umatilla Tribe, OR.

    Now, as a result of less than 200 years of the dominant cultures influence, we live with mitigation measures and science driven ways to try and fix many things right and left that weren’t broken to begin with.

    Yesterday I took some of my cousins, whom are visiting me on spring break for their kids, on a hike up Rapid River. We saw lots of deer, elk, and one wolf (well actually, a coyote, but my cousin who spotted it far away and thought it was a wolf, got me all excited. But once I finally found it in the binocs, I discovered the truth of it all. Still a treat, all the same.

    On the same hike, as I peered down into the crystal clear waters of the Wild And Scenic Rapid River, I visualized the old days when wild salmon teamed upriver for the spawning grounds. I thought back to when I was a kid and actually caught wild salmon high in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of Oregon – in similar geology as we were now hiking. This was back when you could keep wild fish, and when Celio Falls was still around. My how our culture can change things in such a blink of time.

    As I awoke from my day dreaming, I could see the hatchery (more mitigation) far off in the distance to again remind me of how our culture as so much improved the natural world. I also thought back about the famous fish wars of fairly recent history (1979-80 ish) and confrontations between Nez Perce and the state/feds over fishing rights, which eventually led to the present day 50/50 harvest share for each culture. At least the atmosphere has improved, and you don’t see the damn bumper stickers on local rigs that say “Save a Salmon, spear an Indian.”

    Of course, the Little Salmon River during chinook season now looks like a different kind of war zone – like in, bring your own rock and shine up your elbows for fishing with the white folks. Not my kind of fishing. But it is interesting to watch the dip netters, whom have much more breathing space, as only they can fish Rapid River. (Rapid River runs into the Little Salmon River, for those unfamiliar with our area).

    But back to the industrial economy again, our town (Riggins) was an example of what the fishery means to small just one small community: $10 million annually, as concluded by an independent economic study back in 2001 or 02?? It helps demonstrate how important these fish are, and is more evidence in support of breaching the four Snake River dams. After all, that is pretty much how our culture measures everything. It would be more appropriate to change our nations flag to green, with dollar signs all over it.

    At any rate, sometime soon judge Redden will be making a huge (maybe historic) ESA decision about endangered salmon stocks in the Columbia River system, that could have a huge impact to our region. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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Brian Ertz