The Science of Salmon Resilience

The science of salmon resilience says that many of our salmon runs are not much at risk of extinction.

The complexity of equations that judge the resilience of  salmon is dizzying: depensatory effects of small population size; compensatory survival at low rearing density; genetic effects of hatchery fish; straying; habitat; random events; cyclic variation; fecundity; sex ratio; persistence time on spawning grounds; habitat volume and spawning distribution; homing fidelity; extinction vortex parameters; life-stage survival rates.

Scientists labor over parameters, assumptions, transformation, and error terms; run models to represent a thousand generations, or a century, testing scenarios of deteriorating, similar, or improving ocean conditions.

As I write, wild winter steelhead are spawning in coastal rivers.  Eggs are incubating in the gravel as they have for over ten thousand years.  Coho and Chinook fry are emerging from nooks and crannies, seeking shelter at river’s edge.  Sculpin and cutthroat steal precious little food from salmon these days; the coon and otter fight over too few carcasses.   An ecological rain of nutrients carried to these rivers from ocean, abundant for millennia, has withered to a barely recognizable trickle.

People are deeply divided over what the science of salmon resilience seems to be saying.  Some see a politically motivated sham, a contrivance to deny that salmon are in trouble.  Some think that the science of salmon resiliency is merely stupid, because these fish, quite obviously, are headed toward extinction.  Some, though, accept the science of salmon resiliency. Extinction is not an issue, they say.  Most of the people I know have quickly decided to accept it or reject the science of salmon resilience.

Personally, I don’t accept or reject, believe or disbelieve.

The science of salmon resilience is young, yet it claims to understand the soul of nature.  I listen, and consider the advice this young science gives.  I choose to resist outright acceptance or rejection of this young science.  I am optimistic when I read that salmon are likely to rebuild if we don’t mistreat them too much.  I choose to be skeptical when people claim science proves that salmon are bullet-proof.

Time will tell.


4 thoughts on “The Science of Salmon Resilience

  1. Mother Nature has long proven it’s ability to recoile from natural or man made devastation if mankind would simply quit farkling with it. Case in point is the wild fire control in our National Forests. If you view pictures of them up through the ‘6o’s, you will see nice meadows, clear streams……and if you look in those streams you will most likely see lots of fish. With lots of public pressure there was a change in policy to control “natures vacuum” until now when you go back to those same lovely meadows and streams you won’t be able to find many of them under decks of downed timber. Why? Because idiots believe that is what “nature” intended it to be……they also want to be able to protect the cabin that they built at the local ski resort just around the corner, but don’t ever bring that one up. Meanwhile, the decks of timber grow larger and larger. Trails for access for fire fighting and recreation are being shut down. Some day, Mother Nature will clean up the mess whether we want to or not. Then the streams will run clean again for a while. Such a shame to waste all that timber.

  2. You are right on. Science can always come up with it’s “solutions”. However, these solutions are usually nothing more than man’s attempt to understand Nature augmented by the politics of the day. Mother Nature always provides the quintessential solution…..the true balance. One that man may not initially understand or appreciate, ( i.e. a number of small forest fires over the year to keep the forests clean vs. a devastating fire that destroys the forest, streams, rivers, etc. ) and yet works out for the best over the years. – Mitch

  3. Reminds me of the story Bachman tells in his Sandy River Journal, how dams and early hatchery programs sucked every last pair of spawners out of natural production until the river was left for dead in the 40s. Decades passed and steelhead bounced back. In fact, most of the major species are back at varying degrees of abundance.

    But coastal spring chinook seem to prove the inverse. Here we have once-great runs that are at or near extinction, with no aparent hope for recovery. Resillient, yes. Bullet-proof, apparently not.

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