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Photo: Swimonish Tribal Community
An ancient Washington State tribe that relies on a healthy stock of salmon has a climate plan.

The more the media covers indigenous activities, the more we learn what we’ve been missing. There is so much wisdom embedded in tribal memory, especially wisdom about taking care of the natural world. First step: having the right attitude.

Jim Morrison writes at the Washington Post about a tribe in the Pacific Northwest that has a climate plan.

“For 10,000 years, the Swinomish tribe has fished the waters of northwestern Washington, relying on the bounty of salmon and shellfish not only as a staple of its diet but as a centerpiece of its culture. At the beginning of the fishing season, the tribe gathers on the beach for a First Salmon ceremony, a feast honoring the return of the migratory fish that binds the generations of a tribe that calls itself the People of the Salmon.

“At the ceremony’s conclusion, single salmon are ferried by boat in four directions — north to Padilla Bay, east to the Skagit River, south to Skagit Bay and west to Deception Pass — and eased into the water with a prayer that they will tell other salmon how well they were treated.

Photo: Greater Seattle
Spawning salmon.

“In recent years, though, the tribe’s harvest, diminished by vanishing habitat and warming waters fueled by climate change, hasn’t been sufficient to feed the hundreds of people who come to pay homage to their ancestors and to the fish that sustained them.

“ ‘We don’t have that abundance anymore,’ said Lorraine Loomis, an elder who has managed the tribal fishery for 40 years. ‘To get ceremonial fish, we buy it and freeze it.’

“For the Swinomish, perched on a vulnerable, low-lying reservation on Fidalgo Island, the effects of a warming world have been a gut punch. The tribe has responded with an ambitious, multipronged strategy to battle climate change and improve the health of the land and the water and the plants, animals and people who thrived in harmony for generations.

“In 2010, the Swinomish became one of the first communities to assess the problems posed by a warming planet and enact a climate action plan. An additional 50 Native American tribes have followed, creating climate strategies to protect their lands and cultures, ahead of most U.S. communities.

“The Swinomish see the tasks beyond addressing shoreline risk and restoring habitats. They look at climate adaptation and resilience with the eyes of countless generations. They recognize that the endangered ‘first foods’ — clams, oysters, elk, traditional plants and salmon — are not mere resources to be consumed. They are central to their values, beliefs and practices and, therefore, to their spiritual, cultural and community well-being.

“Loomis is 80. Every member of her family, from her grandfather to her nine great-grandchildren, has fished the tribe’s ancestral waters. She has watched over the decades as the salmon disappeared and her family turned to crab, geoduck and sea cucumbers. She’s seen the salmon season drop to only a few days per species from the eight months — May through December — of decades past in order to protect populations. The Skagit River is the last waterway in the continental United States that’s home to all five species of Pacific salmon.

“Progress has been slow; some researchers say it could be 90 years before the salmon recover. Loomis is taking the long view. ‘If I didn’t believe we would recover [the fishery], I guess I wouldn’t still be working on this,’ she said.

“In recent years, the tribe has fostered salmon recovery through a variety of projects. It has restored tidelands and channels, planted trees along streambeds to cool warming waters, and collaborated with farmers to increase stream setbacks to improve water quality.

Restoring salmon populations is just part of an ambitious climate action plan to blunt the effects of increased flooding, ocean acidification, rising river temperatures, more-destructive storms and habitat loss.

“They’re planning the first modern clam garden in the United States on the reservation’s tidelands, reviving an ancient practice. They’re monitoring deer and elk populations through camera traps to understand the climate change pressures and to inform hunting limits. And they have ongoing wetland restoration projects to explore preserving native plants and to help naturally manage coastal flooding.

“ ‘They’re doing really innovative climate adaptation,’ said Meade Krosby, a senior scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. ‘They were way ahead of the curve. And that really shouldn’t be surprising, because the tribes have shown tremendous leadership in climate adaptation and mitigation.’ “

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Mark Stone/University of Washington
Researchers Jenifer McIntyre, from left, Edward Kolodziej, and Zhenyu Tian investigate the salmon die-off at Longfellow Creek, an urban creek in the Seattle area.

Today’s post features two articles on a worrisome environmental issue. In the Guardian, Oliver Milman reports that pollution from abandoned tires is killing off salmon in the Pacific Northwest and may be harming other wildlife as well. But at the Christian Science Monitor, writer Lindsey McGinnis suggests help is on the way.

Oliver Milman: “Pollution from car tires that washes into waterways is helping cause a mass die-off of salmon on the US west coast, researchers have found.

“In recent years, scientists have realized half or more of the coho salmon, also known as silver salmon, returning to streams in Washington state were dying before spawning. The salmon, which reach 2ft in length, are born in freshwater streams before making an epic journey out to sea where they live most of their adult lives. A small number then return to their original streams to lay eggs before dying.

“The cause of the die-off has remained a mystery but a new study, published in Science, has seemingly found a culprit. When it rains, stormwater carries fragments of old car tires into nearby creeks and streams. The tires contain certain chemicals that prevent them breaking down but also prove deadly to the coho salmon. …

“Said Jenifer McIntyre, an assistant professor of aquatic toxicology at Washington State University. ‘The more we look, the more we find it. In some years all of the fish we find dead did not spawn.’

“Samples taken from urban streams around Puget Sound, near Seattle, and subsequent laboratory work identified a substance called 6PPD, which is used as a preservative for car tires, as the toxic chemical responsible for killing the salmon.”

What can be done? Lindsey McGinnis talks to a group of inventive young people in England who may have an answer.

“Every time a car brakes, accelerates, or changes direction, the friction wears down the exterior of the tire, sending particles into the environment. Some remain suspended in the air, and others get swept into local waterways, where they can have devastating effects on plant and animal life. …

“A group of master’s students from Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art had an idea: what if the tires picked up after themselves?

“The Tyre Collective, a project by recent graduates Hugo Richardson, Siobhan Anderson, Deepak Mallya, and Hanson Cheng, seeks to capture this stealthy pollutant as it flies off the wheel. For the past year, they’ve been working on a device that can attach to the bottom of a car and use electrostatic charges, along with the airflow of the moving wheel, to collect particles for reuse.  

“The inspiration came from rubbing a balloon over a sweater and seeing the pieces ‘dancing around,’ says Mr. Richardson, chief technical officer of The Tyre Collective. ‘That led us to the assumption that the particles are charged due to the friction.’ ” 

The Tyre Collective won the 2020 James Dyson Award for the UK, which celebrates the next generation of design engineers. It was a runner-up for the international version of the award.

“Gavin Whitmore, manager of the Tire Industry Project, an initiative by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development geared toward better understanding the potential health and environmental impact of tires, says his organization is keeping an eye on their work … said, ‘We’re certainly interested to learn more, because it could be a very, very promising thing.’

“Tires are more complex than they look. The vulcanized rubber compound that makes up the outermost layer, the tread, often contains sulfur, zinc, carbon black, bisphenol A (BPA), and other chemicals. A lot of that gets swept off the roads by rain, along with motor oil, bits of pavement, and other litter.

“A three-year study by the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) found that stormwater carries roughly 7 trillion microplastic pieces into the bay annually – more than 300 times the discharge from the area’s wastewater treatment plant. Nearly half of those appear to be tire fragments.

” ‘Seeing all these black rubbery particles was a surprise,’ said Rebecca Sutton, a senior scientist at SFEI. … ‘No one had really looked at stormwater. It’s also probably just a tip of the iceberg, because most tire particles are actually smaller than our sieve size.’ …

“Tires are the second-largest source of primary microplastic pollution in the ocean, after synthetic textiles, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. To reduce the amount of tire pollution, Dr. Sutton says governments could consider setting emission standards similar to those for engine exhaust.

“But it can be hard to figure out how much material tires are actually shedding, or should be shedding. Tire wear is heavily influenced by the roadway, the weight and type of vehicle, and the driver’s behavior. In London, The Tyre Collective says a busy bus route can generate a grapefruit-size pile of tire dust in a day. …

“Says Sarah Amick, vice president of environment, health, safety, and sustainability for the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, ‘Tires are one of the most regulated products for safety in the United States. [Ensuring] that we can continue to meet those safety requirements, plus adding more renewable and recyclable materials to our tires, it’s a challenge, but our members are working on that.’ …

“During lockdown, the [Tyre Collective] team has focused on turning their vision into a full-fledged startup. They say several manufacturers have expressed interest in their design, though no partnership has been formalized yet. When restrictions due to COVID-19 ease, they’re looking forward to returning to the lab and producing a set of first-generation prototypes to test with potential partners.” More

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Illustration: Mark Garrison
“The mouths of the Elwha, Snohomish, and Skagit rivers in Washington State provide important saltwater habitat for beavers, salmon, and other estuarine species,” says the radio show Living on Earth.

One of the main reasons I like writing a blog is that I like to learn new things and to have something interesting to think about. I save up promising links, sometimes just because the headline looks interesting. Later, when I actually work on the post, it’s such a treat to read the whole story!

When I saw that there was such a thing as saltwater beavers, I thought, Really? This is a keeper!

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Until recently, biologists assumed that beavers occupied freshwater ecosystems only. But scientists are now studying beavers living in brackish water and how they help restore degraded estuaries and provide crucial habitat for salmon, waterfowl, and many other species. Journalist Ben Goldfarb speaks with Host Bobby Bascomb.

“BASCOMB: The eager beaver is an extremely effective engineer of its environment. Beaver dams hold back water that can be a nuisance to homeowners, but they create a complex system of ponds and wetlands that are a haven for numerous plant and animal species. …

“Scientists recently discovered that beavers are also happy to live in the brackish mix of fresh and salt water in coastal areas. And just as they help restore freshwater ecosystems, beavers could also hold the key to restoring damaged coastal wetlands. Journalist Ben Goldfarb wrote about saltwater beavers for Hakai Magazine. …

“Ben, how surprised were you to find out that there are saltwater beavers? …

“GOLDFARB: It was definitely surprising. … It’s just really within the last several years, thanks in large part to this guy, Greg Hood, a scientist who works in the Skagit river in Washington, that we’ve begun to understand that [beavers are] living full-time in these intertidal estuaries. …

“BASCOMB: You actually went to visit one of those beaver lodges on this Snohomish river in Puget Sound. Can you describe that? …

“GOLDFARB: It’s kind of this huge saltmarsh that’s scored with these little freshwater channels that freshwater comes down in. But then when the tide comes up twice a day, those freshwater channels are completely submerged, they’re inundated. So it’s this really dynamic ecosystem with the tides are just going in and out all the time. And beavers are actually building in there. So they’ll build these dams that when the tide comes up, the dams are actually completely submerged under water, you could kayak over the top of one of these dams and have no idea that they were beavers building there. And then when the tide goes out again those dams suddenly reemerge. …

[It’s] almost like the beavers are anticipating these tidal fluctuations and are accounting for them in their construction, and in this really sophisticated way. …

“BASCOMB: How do their dams in these intertidal areas affect the ecosystem around them? …

“GOLDFARB: What Greg found is that [these beaver construction sites] are hugely important for juvenile salmon, especially. You know when the tide goes out, those fish would get flushed out into these estuaries where they’re really at risk of being preyed upon by larger fish, by birds. … Baby salmon were three times more abundant in these beaver pools than in other habitat. …

“BASCOMB: Wow. So, they really serve a critical function. I mean, everybody likes salmon, right? The bears, the whales, people. …

“GOLDFARB: We saw this past year just how badly the southern resident killer whales are doing, the orcas in Puget Sound, and they’re essentially starving because there’s just not enough salmon. …

“BASCOMB: It’s all connected. Now, you write about how beaver ponds can help restore degraded coastal wetlands. And there’s clear evidence for that in removal of dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. …

“GOLDFARB: Two enormous dams had basically been there since the ’20s, I think, just trapping enormous amounts of sediment and blocking salmon runs. … A few years ago the government actually bought those dams and — thanks to pressure from native tribes — removed the dams, and opened up this huge amount of spawning habitat for salmon, so now salmon are swimming up river, past the former dam sites.

“[But] the river mouth had been starved of sediment for so long that it basically just flowed straight into the ocean. There was no real estuary there. … Beavers are really going into town in there. And by creating burrows and canals and dams, they’re just creating this amazing habitat complexity. They’re just opening up lots and lots of little spaces for all kinds of salmon and trout and other fish to live in.”

More here.

Photo: Becky Matsubara, Flickr
Because they build dams that shape the very environments in which they live, beavers are a classic example of a “keystone species.”

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Photo: Clark Mischler
Hanging salmon at a fish camp near Kwethluk, Alaska, in the Yup’ik region, which has extensive coastline on the Bering Sea. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is tapping the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities as it works toward more-sustainable fishery management.

I was listening to the radio in the car when the United Nations’ dire warning about biodiversity came out. Called the “Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services,” it predicts one million species could be pushed to extinction in the next few years by such things as overbuilding and loss of habitat, global warming, and pesticides and herbicides. (The scientists who did the research provided their services for free. The naysayers are being paid. Ask yourself: Paid by whom?)

One commentator suggested that a road map for preventing loss of species is right under our noses in indigenous communities.

For a window on one way government agencies are starting to collaborate with indigenous communities, consider this Pew Trusts report on the salmon fishery in Alaska.

“The indigenous communities of the Bering Strait region have a vast knowledge of salmon runs, ocean currents, marine mammal behavior, and other ecosystem dynamics — information gathered over millennia and passed down from generation to generation. Now federal fishery managers will use that Traditional Knowledge to help guide management for the Bering Sea.

“The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted at its December meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, to adopt a new Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan that lays the groundwork for meaningful incorporation of Traditional Knowledge into decision-making. Social scientists Julie and Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, a married couple who have worked on the issue for years, say this is a groundbreaking action by the council.

“ ‘Indigenous communities have been living on — and with — the Bering Sea for generations,’ says Julie Raymond-Yakoubian, who is social science program director for Kawerak Inc., the Alaska Native nonprofit tribal consortium for the Bering Strait region. ‘They can see components of the ecosystem, including interconnections and relationships, that fishery managers might miss.’

“ ‘Incorporating indigenous perspectives is crucial for overcoming management challenges,’ adds Brenden Raymond-Yakoubian, who runs Sandhill.Culture.Craft, a social science consulting firm based in Girdwood, Alaska. …

Here are a couple of the nitty gritty matters addressed in the Pew interview.

“Q: What are the greatest challenges to ensuring that Traditional Knowledge informs decision-making?
“Brenden: One is getting recognition for Traditional Knowledge and ensuring there is a desire for it to inform policy and science. Another is getting natural scientists — those working in fisheries or oceanography, for example — to work with social scientists and Traditional Knowledge holders.

“Julie: There are five council meetings a year that each last about 10 days and are held in different places. Gaining a good understanding of how to work within the council’s process can be a full-time job. Most tribes don’t have the resources to do this. But if we want to include Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Knowledge holders in fisheries management, then these issues must be addressed.

“Q: How can Traditional Knowledge help address conflicts between federal fishery management and the subsistence way of life that Bering Sea communities have lived for millennia?
“Brenden: There are many ways. For example, management could include a broader understanding of the impact of commercial fishing on subsistence communities and of millennia-old practices and principles that have connected those communities to fish and the sea and sustained that relationship with the environment.

“Julie: Incorporating Traditional Knowledge will also help federal fishery managers better meet their existing obligations, such as the requirements to use the best scientific information available and consider social and ecological factors in management. It will also help them better implement ecosystem-based fishery management, which calls for managing fisheries at the ecosystem level rather than single-species level. Traditional Knowledge can also help federal fishery management become more adaptive, for example, by providing managers access to information about ecosystem changes they may not otherwise be aware of. This should help fishery managers adjust their policies to adapt to climate change, which would hopefully occur in a manner which ensured the sustainability of fishery resources for subsistence communities into a climate-uncertain future.”

More here.

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If the five unexpected salmon are a sign of a comeback in the Connecticut River, this could be really exciting.

Nate Schweber writes at Al Jazeera America, “By the fall of 2015, the salmon of the Connecticut River were supposed to be doomed. The silvery fish … went extinct because of dams and industrial pollution in the 1700s that turned the river deadly. In the late 1800s a nascent salmon stocking program failed. Then in 2012, despite nearly a half-century of work and an investment of $25 million, the federal government and three New England states pulled the plug on another attempt to resurrect the prized fish.

“But five Atlantic salmon didn’t get the memo. In November, fisheries biologists found something in the waters of the Farmington River — which pours into the Connecticut River — that historians say had not appeared since the Revolutionary War: three salmon nests full of eggs.

“ ‘It’s a great story,’ said John Burrows, of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, a conservation group, ‘whether it’s the beginning of something great or the beginning of the end.’ …

“The streamlined wild Atlantic salmon, genetically different from their fattened domesticated counterparts, which are mass-produced for human consumption, are so rare that anglers spend small fortunes chasing them across Canada, Iceland and Russia. …

“The stocked salmon continued to die off through the early 1970s. Gradually, scientists began to learn the importance of different strains of salmon and their close relatives, trout. In 1976 the program was able to acquire Atlantic salmon eggs from the Penobscot River in Maine, the closest surviving population both physically and genetically. This strain was still different from the lost native strain of the Connecticut River, but less so than their Canadian cousins, previously stocked there. In 1978, 90 fish from the Maine strain managed to make the two-year, 6,000-mile migration out to the food-rich Labrador Sea off of Greenland and then return to the Connecticut River. …

“As only 54 salmon returned to the Connecticut River in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pulled out of the restoration program. New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts followed. Connecticut opted to continue stocking a small number of salmon …

“Then in the fall of 2015, biologists found five adult Atlantic salmon swimming past the Rainbow Dam on the lower Farmington River. On a hunch, they searched likely upstream spawning habitat and there found the three nests full of eggs.

In the spring of 2016 they will hatch the first wild salmon into that river in two centuries.”

More here.

Photo: Design Pics Inc / Alamy Stock Photo
In North America, Atlantic salmon migrate up rivers and streams to reach spawning grounds in New England and Canada.

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Casey Kelly has a story at WBUR’s Only a Game on a sport enabled by the removal of dams on the Penobscot River in Maine.

The recent removal of two dams (and upgrades to others) in Maine’s Penobscot River made available over 1,000 miles of habitat for Atlantic salmon and other fish — and also made the river available to whitewater enthusiasts.

“The dam removal was the culmination of years of restoration efforts by several groups. The Penobscot Nation, for whom the river has been vital for centuries, helped lead that effort.

“ ‘The creator put us here, in the Penobscot River Valley,’ said James Eric Francis, Sr., the director of cultural and historic preservation for the Penobscot Nation. ‘We are surrounded by the sacred river.’

“Last month, paddlers from all over the country gathered for a race celebrating the removal of the dams.” More here, including a video.

Here’s how freeing the river came about. It was a major collaboration by disparate groups committed to identifying and acting on the values they held in common.

Photo: Craig Dilger for The New York Times  
The dismantling of the Veazie Dam is also giving 11 species of fish better access to 1,000 miles of spawning habitat.

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