Salmon can provide more than just a tasty dinner.
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Think salmon is just a fish you douse with lemon and pepper?  While it is a delicious dinner when paired with say summer squash and white wine, it is also an important piece of river ecosystems.

Salmon play a part in understanding how healthy the ecosystem really is.  When we see a strong, booming salmon population, it typically signifies that all the coexisting animals and connected natural processes are thriving too.

Why look at salmon as the ecosystem marker?  Salmon are beautiful to watch as their scales glisten as they swim upstream.  However, young salmon and Steelheads use the entirety of the river ecosystem, from headwaters to the ocean.

“They are extremely sensitive to changes in water quality, trophic webs and upstream perturbations to the river flow, turbidity and temperature. Juvenile salmonids feed on freshwater invertebrates that are also indicators of water quality. Generally, the more pristine, diverse and productive a river ecosystem is, the healthier the salmon stocks. Declines in the capacity of a watershed to grow juvenile salmonids can indicate declining ecosystem health,” according to Guido R. Rahr III, President of The Wild Salmon Center.

While salmon provide food for residents of the Pacific Rim, they also feed other hungry animals.  Bears, birds and other predators consume the fish and carry them onto land where they decompose and create nutrient-rich biomass.  The predators, in turn, end up with robust populations themselves.

Timothy Egan wrote that, “The Pacific Northwest is any place a salmon can get to.” Almost everyone from the Pacific Rim has either caught or eaten salmon.  It’s more than just dinner.  The northwest Native American tribes revered salmon as a giver of life, and they often appeared on totem poles to represent instinct, persistence and determination.

“As a tool to rally support for forest and water conservation, it is difficult to find a species that has more charisma and broad cultural support than salmon,” said Rahr.