In front of me is a photograph of a river full of salmon. In this picture, taken in Alaska, the river is full of fish. Literally. Physically. If you stepped into the water, you would step on a fish. Fish would run up against you. They would keep you awake at night with the slapping of their tails on the water. I would not put a boat in, for fear it would capsize. I cried when I looked at the photo, because this is the world we inherited. This is the world salmon and bears and huckleberries and everyone else is meant to live in.
When I go to salmon-bearing streams where I live in upper Northern California, I may see five or ten or fifteen salmon, big and dark brown, tails white and tattered from their journey upstream, from beating the gravel beneath them. I may hear sudden sounds from another fish or two fighting up a series of rapids. I have read how full these streams once were, so full of fish that horses were afraid to enter, so full people could walk across on their backs.
If we bring civilization down now, salmon will come back home down here. It won’t even take that long. Maybe five hundred years. Maybe a thousand. But if we do not act soon, they will be gone forever, like the flocks of passenger pigeons that darkened the sky for days at a time, like the flocks of eskimo curlews just as large, like the rookeries of great auks, like the Carolina parakeets and the wood bison.
It is time.Filed in Essays