Oceans of Cascadia…

… Salmon to Bear to Tree to Ground to Stream to River to Ocean… & Back Again
or Mapping Salmons
… Spiraled Paradoxes in Cascadian Watersheds & Migrations …


salmon on the day of return to the upper elwha-1-2
Fall Chinook at play on the Elwha – on the day of their first documented return to the upper river – only a few weeks after the dam, which had blocked their way for a century, was removed! – September 2014

When we imagine with paths of life, maps are paradoxical –  for just as they assist imaginations – they can also be obstacles to perception…

Maps rarely tell us what is in the world… For she is always breathing. Maps need to be imbued  with living imaginations if we are to see through them…  inner lives need to move into maps just as life imbues any living language.

2 dimensional maps tend to tell us what concepts have mineralized in the minds of our fellows… as much as they can reveal the world as it is… This is an artifact of writing in general – which sets a moment down – takes the living and sets it into the mineral world – so that it can travel through space and time.

Thankfully, the experience of others can travel between us in maps…  and so we travel together across time and space… in earlier times our maps were as often songs, tales, carvings or paintings as the cartography of the modern moment.

Salmon Fisherman - Knowledge Pole -
Salmon Fisherman – Knowledge Pole – Carved by the August Family – Cowichan Nation

And so when we imagine the ground of home, awareness of ancient streams of migration nourish and connect our ground to streams of life… this living experience of migratory streams imbues magic into the artifacts of writing and mapping.

Waters and weather are a continuos brushing and blessing, a drying and scorching, warming and cooling communication… the planet breathes through us all… and its waters pool in each of us recycling in what averages about 16 days in the human body… We are not as static as our imaginations of Identity might be.

Salmon of the Columbia River Watershed live lives moving in great spiraling cycles, that are as long as 7 years – as short as 2 years. Cycles of  transformation  migrating between births freshwaters … into the saline ocean waters of their growing years … and back into freshwaters following the smell of their birthplace to spawn and die. Along the way there are 137 documented species that feed directly on salmon… thousands more feed indirectly creating a web that bridges between the deep Pacific, the Bering Sea and the highest mountain ranges of Turtle Island’s Cascadia.

This journey will travel through the paradox of images & maps to see more clearly into the mystery of salmon – along the way we will focus around:

  • Shapely Contours of the Columbia River Watershed – the authors home watershed.
  • Destruction and Recovery of Salmon through the Columbia Watershed since the 1800’s.
  • Pathways of Pacific Salmon in their Ocean Migrations which marry Cascadia to the Ocean.
  • Dams & Reservoirs imposed on the Columbia River and tributaries – currently with militarized/industrialized goals to enable power generation, commercial navigation, irrigation and flood control at high costs to the ecological, cultural, spiritual and economic existence of the river. This system of dams was initially promoted to enable the development of a Colonial Empire to extract the resources from the Region – with little regard for the regions long term integrity.
  • Paths of Healing – changing views of our relatives, the living ones of earth, to one of  Medicine, from the dominance of “commodity resource”. Returning a primacy of place, sustainability and community to our self determination – removing corporate rights and rights of commerce where they make sustainable inhabitations illegal or impossible. Taking down dams, restoring flood plains, restoring Celilo Falls and all Treaty protected traditional fishing places, restoring salmon to all historic places, ending acceptability of toxins in the waters, repairing historic contamination. Celebrating the return of Living Waters!
Where do salmon go in the ocean?


salmonContrary to earlier beliefs, many salmon from North American rivers roam far at sea in the North Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. The oceanic distribution of the salmon is dependent upon the species and point of origin. Sockeye and chinook salmon from northwest Alaska, for example, may migrate across the Bering Sea to areas close to Kamchatka, U.S.S.R., and south of the Aleutian Islands into the North Pacific Ocean; the sockeye also migrate eastward to the Gulf of Alaska. Salmon such as the pink, chum, and coho from central and southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington State, migrate out into the northeastern Pacific and Gulf of Alaska. Many steelhead trout from Washington and Oregon are known to migrate far at sea to areas off the Alaskan Peninsula. Some salmon migrate several thousand miles from the time they leave the rivers as juveniles until they return as adults. A chinook salmon tagged in the central Aleutian Islands and recovered a year later in the Salmon River, Idaho, had traveled about 3,500 miles; a steelhead trout tagged south of Kiska Island (western Aleutians) was recovered about six months and 2,200 miles later in the Wynoochee River, Washington. ”

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Shapely Contours of the Columbia River Watershed

Salmon's Ocean Nutrients Journey into Land
Salmon’s Oceanic Nutrient’s can be tracked as they travel widely in terrestrial ecosystems. Image from salmon guy.org

The Columbia Basin River System is Huge and connects from the Pacific Ocean to Continental Divides which in turn connect to both the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Columbia Basin is the largest watershed in the Cascadian Bioregion and the watershed in which the author is at home. Celilo Falls which lie at the juncture of the Cascades with the inland Basin historically served as the inland cultural nexus of the bioregion.  Sea lions could not swim deeper into the river than Celilo though Salmon go on well over another thousand miles upstream. The giveaways of salmon along this journey deeply nourish the whole of the region.

The Columbia River Basin from space - Courtesy of NASA
A portion of the Columbia River Basin from space – Courtesy of NASA – It actually goes farther into British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Oregon than pictured here. Celilo Falls – a heart of the Big River – is located where the green meets the brown – communicating between ecosystems.


Main Stem Columbia River
This shows the main stem of the Columbia River – In the map of the whole system below it can be seen how the Snake River system is as large as the Columbia Main Stem


map_lgA Map Originally  commissioned by the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center

These are the ceded lands of the Columbia River Treaty Tribes who all share historic fishing rights at Celilo Falls on the Mid Columbia – and who hold implicit senior water rights. Not all Columbia River Indians view themselves as having been represented by these land cession treaties – and by international law retain aboriginal title. Treaty Tribes are at the table with Canada and the United States in the 2014-2024 Columbia River Treaty Review process. Map from CRITFC.


allrivers - US Portion of the NChi'Wana / Columbia Basin

From Flowing – All Rivers Imagination Image License AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Nelson Minar

Destruction and Recovery of Salmon

Salmon are held as a sacred first food throughout Cascadia by First Peoples.  Indigenous Legal Orders have developed over millinea as agreements between the Salmon and Human Beings.  In the enthusiasm of colonialization these Indigenous Laws have been consciously ignored and disregarded to the harm of all who find their home on Earth.  The recovery of salmon will require listening and learning, and changing the values with which we have imbued the landscape with industrial systems of exploitation.  These systems too often externalize costs in ways that have historically been dismissed or minimized.  We are living in a time with the 2014-2024 Columbia River Treaty Review process when their is a generational window to reset our common values and the way which we have imposed these into the waters and lives of salmon.

A year-by-year review from 1890-2011 of actions and activities affecting the accessible range of chinook salmon in the Columbia River Basin. Created by David Graves and Peter Galbreath from CRITFC from an idea by NOAA/NW Fisheries Science Center

Historic vs. Current Range of Salmon in Cascadia
Historic vs. Current Range of Salmon in Cascadia – Map by EcoTrust
The issues we are facing in Cacadia are mirrored even more intensely across the Pacific and in California to the Southe.
The issues we are facing in Cascadia are mirrored even more intensely across the Pacific and in California to the South. Map by Wild Salmon Center & EcoTrust.

Salmon have an ancient and creative history of transformations.

Both the fossil record (Behnke 1992) and molecular data (Devlin 1993) indicate that the genera Salmo (Atlantic salmon, brown trout, and relatives) and Onchorhynchus (Pacific salmon and western trouts) had diverged by the early Miocene (15–20 MA), perhaps following cooling of the Arctic Ocean (Stearley 1992). By 6 MA, even the most closely related species of Pacific salmon (pink, Onchorhynchus gorbuscha; chum, Onchorhynchus keta; and sockeye, Onchorhynchus nerka) can be distinguished in the fossil record (Smith 1992), indicating that speciation of Pacific salmon occurred in the Miocene. Why are there six species of Pacific salmon (five in North America, plus steelhead) but only one of Atlantic salmon? Montgomery (2000) suggested that Pacific salmon speciation was driven by the active Miocene geologic history of northwestern North America; in contrast, Atlantic drainages have been much more stable over the past 70 million years.

Evolutionary history of Pacific salmon in dynamic environments

Evolutionary Applications  – May 2008

 Ocean Migratatory Patterns of Pacific Salmon

This reality does not seem to yet have the map which it really deserves.  These large patterns which overlap with the migrations of Salmon which come into the Pacific from Asia are communal patterns shared by all Pacific Salmon.  They have been documented in migrations over 3500 miles long as Raven flies!

The nutrition which salmon bring out of the oceans into the rivers is fundamental to the long term fertilization of ecosystems in the region.  Much of the region has been starved from this nutritional communication.  The extinction and marginalization of salmon is primarily caused by dam building, but is also an artifact of cattle in streams, logging, road building, agriculture in general as well as the toxic loads of the fossil fuel and industrial cycles.

Cascadia is deeply wedded to the health of the oceans. Warming oceans are actively changing these migration patterns and could cut off southern edges of access to the northern waters within the century. We must begin responding to these changes now – as repairs to local habitat and river flows will make significant differences in survival rates.

The waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest are warming, particularly in the upper reaches where pelagic fish like salmon and capelin swim and feed. If that trend continues, it could push many species northward by an average of 30 kilometers per decade, according to research published this week in the journal Progress in Oceanography.

Scientific American December 2014

salmon migrationfrom  winthrop
This is a map showing a simplified view of Chinook, Coho and Steelhead Ocean Migrations of Wintrop WA National Fish Hatchery Fish down the Columbia and into the Pacific Ocean
Ocean Migration Patterns by Salmon Species


BC salmon migration chart
Columbia River Salmon freely mix with Salmon from the rest of Cascadia in the open ocean… Here is a map of ocean patterns for British Columbia Salmon.
So there is a Migratory SpiralPattern  that all of the Pacific Coast Salmon tend to join up with.
So there is a Migratory SpiralPattern that all of the Pacific Coast Salmon tend to join up with.
Ecoregion's of Salmon
Our Watersheds and Bioregions are not alone – our struggles, as large as they are, are not unique – Salmon are a Holarctic species akin to Orca, Raven, Grizzly & Wolf – 66 Distinct Salmon Ecoregions are Connected to the Pacific – Map by StateoftheSalmon.org


Dams & Reservoirs imposed on the Columbia River

The River Peoples indigenous to the Columbia River system have suffered unimaginable losses in relation to the Medicine of the Waters and the health, existence and access to Salmon. These losses began with the importation of cattle into the region within the first decade after Lewis & Clark.  Elders who were forced to cede lands during the early colonial period were wise in including treaty law language which protected all usual places of harvest and gathering in common with settlers on ceded land.  Virtually every Treaty Law protected fishing site on the main stem Columbia is currently being flooded by the US Army Corp of Engineers dam projects.  This colonial period is not historic – it is most active through the maintenance of the dam systems. The arrogance of the Doctrine of Discovery, the colonial process and Manifest Destiny are now largely viewed as genocidal – and illegal – yet many of those policies and attitudes remain in place as historic legacy without meaningful remediation.

Recent court rulings in relation to the Klamath River in southern Oregon / Northern California have accurately expressed that the aboriginal titles from which all ceded land title emerges, by treaty, gives Indigenous peoples senior water rights. Settler citizens have been conspicuously deprived of education about their status and obligations as treaty citizens – we are in need of improving our collective education. The province of Saskatchewan in Canada made treaty education in schools mandatory in 2008 and won Canada’s Race Relations Award of Excellence in 2014 for their We Are All Treaty Citizens campaign.  It is our hope that we in Cascadia can move into a period of mutually respectful collaboration in which Indigenous Law, Rights & Responsibilities are at the table with the Colonial Nation States.


A key to this map of major dams on the Columbia system is here.

Based on National Atlas and Digital Chart of the World data. Canadian dams information from [1] by Kmusser.

This is a map of the dams within the Columbia River drainage basin. The size of the circles are based on the height of the dam. Small circles are 50 meters or less, medium are 50 to 150 meters and large are over 150 meters.

Prominent dams of the Columbia River Basin. Color indicates dam ownership:  (Purple) U.S. Federal government (Red)  Public Utilities   (Green) State, provincial, or local government  (Brown) Private (Please note, the file linked through the image contains a much more detailed listing of tributary dams than this article.)


Pacific_Northwest_River_SystemThese are all the Reservoirs which are currently being used to manage the flow of the Columbia – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

dams of cascadia
This is a larger regional view of the dams which have been devastating Pacific Salmon in Cascadia – Map from the Sightline Institute


Paths of Healing


The good news is we are starting to take down dams – and have growing economic/ecological arguments, in addition to cultural, ethical and legal arguments to take down more. The film DamNation (viewable on Netflix) – which was produced by Yvonne Chouinard and funded by Patagonia in association with American Rivers – does a great job of showing some of these successes. Central to the film is the successful take down and immediate return of salmon on the Elwha River.  The late Elmer Crow is eloquent in the film in representing the significance of a living Columbia River and the deep significance of Celilo Falls.  He carries a memory, recorded in the film,  which is rapidly disappearing.

 A growing movement is emerging to build conversation to restore Celilo Falls as a work of healing the fracture which has existed between Indigenous Peoples & Law and the sometimes ignorance of Settler enthusiasms.  Friends of Celilo Falls is a part of this work. They have participated in submitting testimony as a part of the 2014-24 Columbia River Treaty Review Process.

CRITFC – The Columbia River Treaty Inter-Tribal Fish Commission – which represents the Mid Columbia Treaty Tribes has a Spirit of the Salmon – Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit Recovery plan, which combines science and traditional wisdom for the entire historic range of salmon within the Columbia River Watershed. They are also providing leadership in the Columbia River Treaty Review.

A major obstacle to this work may well be the growing Constitutional rights of Corporations and Commerce which claim primacy over the rights of Humans and Communities in protecting themselves from harm and instituting policies for ecologically sustainable futures. The emerging Community Rights movement using creative legal strategies to support Rights of Nature –  from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund may well be a model that the region can use to reset fundamental structural agreements in the body politic. Paul Cienfuegos has numerous talks and a weekly podcast illustrating how over 200 communities  have implemented this strategy and are succeeding in redefining democracy! A growing Cascadian Bioregional movement is actively nourishing consciousness of organizing our human communities in relationship with ecological watersheds – and building local food sovereignties, rather than continuing with the arbitrary political/economic inheritances of the colonial process.

If we all – like the salmon – keep pushing against the obstacles – living rivers will prevail!

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