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Salmon, Bears and Forest


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This pool full of pink salmon lie in wait for the water to rise, their bodies to transform and their eggs to ripen in preparation to spawn.


INSPIRATION │ KNOWLEDGE


Story and images by Robert Scriba


This drama that hundreds of people come to witness every season is one quick link in the vitality and survival of each species and the forest surrounding us. We rarely even consider how this quick event affects us all beyond our immediate gratification. Little over a year ago that salmon left this very river as a “fry” weighing about one quarter of a gram after having just emerged from the safety of the gravel where it’s parents had laid their eggs. It floated down the spring river flood beginning its journey to the Pacific Ocean. As it floated along, it fed upon the zooplankton that had fed upon the dead, rotting carcasses of the previous generation of salmon who had completed their life’s mission last fall. The little fry would spend the next eighteen months dodging myriad predators and dangers along the thousands of miles it would cover as it ate and grew in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. It would return to its natal river with single- minded determination as Mother Nature had designed, to propagate its species. When the pink salmon returned home it weighed between two to three kilograms. This growth has all been transferred from the ocean to the river.


These fish bring with them a nitrogen isotope that can only come from the marine environment. With the return of the salmon to the rivers comes a veritable feast that provides many species with the needed calories to build fat reserves that will help them make it through another winter season. Mink, otters, black and grizzly bears, eagles,osprey, wolves and others such as ravens, ducks and dippers all depend upon healthy salmon returns for a food source. More than 150 different species eat salmon throughout every stage of their lives. Grizzly and black bears gorge themselves on salmon, some up to 60,000 calories per day or more, gaining up to a kilogram of fat per day. This fat reserve is what determines if the bred sow will implant her fertilized blastocyst to become pregnant or if her too skinny body will slough it off. She must have enough reserves to keep herself alive and healthy as well as nourish her potential cubs.


As the critters eat the salmon, they must also rid their bodies of waste. This waste is dropped wherever they are standing and will nourish the forest plants with the nitrogen fertilizer that had been transferred from the ocean. As the critters get full they also become fussier and messier eaters. The partially consumed carcasses then become a slow release fertilizer, dissolving slowly with the rain over the coming seasons to feed the forest. Scientists find evidence of this valuable plant nutrient hundreds of meters from the rivers edge. This marine nitrogen is measurable in the growth rings of the trees. The healthy forest ecosystem provides many benefits to the world at large. The modern world sets great store by all the carbon that the forest trees absorb from the atmosphere. The great jungles, rainforests and boreal forests of the world absorb untold tons of carbon while converting that to the oxygen we all need for a healthy life.


This is just one of the hidden, immeasurable benefits that forests provide for the world.


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