Dungeness Drama: Commentary about the Dungeness River, the endangered salmon and the fisheries and the people

By Pat Neal
Sequim Gazette


Sequim, WA - Daylight in the slump. It's colder than a well digger's collection agency. So much for the global warming the eggheads have been warning us about. And to think that all I wanted to do on a day like this was to sit inside and try out a Christmas present I got myself, a brand-new chopping block for splitting kindling. That's tough to do once the water pipes burst and flood the place, but at least it saves the frozen septic tank from backing up anymore.

Winter is the time to look on the bright side, and accomplish as little as possible. It's enough to trudge through the frozen drifts to dig the remains of errant root crops missed in the last fall's harvest. The frost bitten carrots and potatoes seem sweeter when boiled on a wood cook stove by candlelight. It is a time to give thanks for the certain knowledge that things could be much worse.

You just have to look down the Dungeness River to know that, where every inch of snow adds to the risk of another flood once the whole mess melts. You wonder what could possibly be worse than getting flooded in the middle of winter. That would be letting the authorities find out about it. Getting flooded is a crime and Calamity County.

If you are unlucky enough to live along the river, you cannot get a permit to protect yourself from high water or to repair flood damage to your home. Congratulations, you have just become a “willing seller”.

The government will gladly buy your house for salmon habitat, demolish it, load it in a truck and dump it in the landfill. This is done, to quote our recent Sequim Gazette article. “To eliminate continual property damage, and protect and restore the environment." Sometimes we have to destroy a home to save it. That's a lesson we learned in Vietnam. Do not be alarmed, citizen. It is all done to save the salmon. You do want to save the salmon, don't you?

I know what you're thinking. Salmon live in water. Why would the county spend a million dollars, knocking down real estate the salmon can't use until they grow legs and assume a mortgage? Follow the money.

Calamity County just got another million and a half dollars from the mother of all slush funds, the Salmon Recovery Board. They've shoveled $11 million worth of pull boodle in just the past five years. We bought 120 acres of land along Morris Creek for salmon habitat, now we're spending $160,500, that's more than $ 1,000 per acre, for consultants to study it. Yet another consultant study might come in handy if fish learned how to eat paper.

We wasted millions making designer logjams and planting native vegetation. Which begs the question, how do you stop native vegetation from growing here anyway? I spend my life chopping the brush back, and the brush seems to be winning. The simple fact is, fish do not grow on trees. Fish cannot live on paper.

Meanwhile, one of the oldest and most productive fish rearing facilities in the state of Washington is continually endangered by a lack of funding. The Dungeness Fish Hatchery produces salmon that are caught from here to Alaska. Fishing regulations being what they are, fin clipped hatchery fish are the only ones you can keep and eat. The Dungeness Hatchery turns these fish out by the millions for the enjoyment of anyone who wants to go out and catch one.

Some people say hatchery fish are inferior to the wild ones, although I've never heard anyone make this complaint when the hatchery fish is on the end of their line. All I can say from a lifetime of fishing is that the Dungeness coho or silver salmon are as big in fat as any native you will find on the Olympic Peninsula.

For this you can thank the staff and volunteers at the Dungeness Hatchery. If we would only let these people do their jobs, there would be no such thing as an endangered salmon or threatened steelhead on the Dungeness River.

Instead, the Dungeness Hatchery is in danger of being washed away by flooding. They cannot get permits, materials or funding to avoid this impending disaster to an irreplacable community resource. There is obviously more money in studying endangered salmon than raising live ones. Maybe we should hire a consultant to study the consultants that are studying the problem.

Sequim Gazette columnist Pat Neal is a fishing guide who lives in the Olympic Mountains. He can be reached via e-mail at PatNeal@SequimGazette.com. His web site is patnealwildlife.com.



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