Restoring a salmon run in Yakima Valley
About 140 miles east-by-north-east from Portland, the Yakima Valley of Washington state opens the high desert land to the traveler in a dramatic way: crossing the Ahtanum Ridge, one sees an expanse of orchards and rivers and mountain peaks that dazzle anyone from a city. It fulfills the epic imagination needed to comprehend the term “promised land.”
And then one drives into the cities – Toppenish, Union Gap, Yakima. It’s an area slammed by lean times, and the deep source of prosperity – the land and water – has been used hard for decades. At La Salle High School in Union Gap, the small school established on 40 acres abutting Ahtanum Creek, students and an iconic teacher decided it was time to swim with the fishes. Along the riparian zone edging the school’s property, Br. Jack Henderson, FSC, and his students have started plantings and, recently, received a grant to start a salmon hatchery.
It’s the kind of thing all schools ought to be doing – noting its special place amid its environs and putting the collective intellect and physical capacity at the service of the local community.
Here in Union Gap, La Salle students under Br. Jack’s tutelage, ever so methodically, restore and recover the salmon runs of the Ahtanum watershed, however minute its spread within the broader Yakima Basin and Columbia River Watershed. In the small-scale operation that is La Salle’s salmon hatchery, their two raceways house fewer than 25,000 alevins. Each morning before school and, again, before they leave for the day, students walk from classrooms to the far end of the property to feed the flickering fry, soon to be released in the spring time Ahtanum flow.
More and more high schools near waterways are doing this. It’s the perfect, engaging kind of academics that teenagers are naturally drawn to. At Warrenton High School at the mouth of the Columbia River, students have established the Warrenton High Fisheries Inc. ( http://www.kval.com/news/tech/101198554.html), and it is succeeding. (Over on the far right of this page, you’ll see Moving+Things – click on “Life Cycle of Salmon.”)
This direct work of managing some aspect of a complex system enables students to comprehend the precarious time-bound interplay of multiple forces . . . how all those disparate things are really one thing.
Some parts of our ecosystem are – in fact – in terrible shape, but students can play a part in restoration. It’s likely to take a few generations to right the ship. Fortunately, there are teachers like Br. Jack and students like those at La Salle High School in Union Gap who give us hope.
- Expected high water flow could affect Yakima River spring chinook fishery (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- PBS documentary looks at the state of Pacific Northwest salmon runs (seattletimes.nwsource.com)