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The Great Bear Rainforest

The Great Bear Rainforest

A Brief Look into the World of Salmon 

By Jessi Vietz 

The beauty of Walla Walla valley is known to long-time residents and brand-new freshmen alike. One crucial aspect of the ecology in the valley is due to the salmon population; this article will delve into how their lives impact ours.  

The pacific northwest is home to several species of wild salmon, five of which can be found right here in Washington. There are the “chinook (also called kings), coho (also called silvers), chum (also called dogs), sockeye (also called reds), and pink (also called humpies).” [1] 

You may know salmon as a fancy dinner and healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, but did you know that the health and balance of our ecosystem is due to the life cycle of the salmon? 

In the spring, young salmon swim from the rivers into the sea, eat and grow, then feed many types of sea life such as killer whales and sea lions. In the fall, the salmon swim from the sea to the rivers where they feed “bears, wolves, eagles, gulls, and other wildlife gather in estuaries and along rivers to feast on adults returning to spawn.” [2] 

After the salmon spawn in the rivers and lakes, they gracefully die, completing their lives, but their legacies live on. The bodies of the salmon bring essential nutrients to the trees and other plants that line the riverbanks. “These marine nutrients transported by salmon have been found in the tops of trees and have been correlated with higher abundance and diversity of birds.” [3]  

Not only do humans rely on salmon for food, but we rely on salmon for the quality of oxygen we breathe and the wildlife we love to represent our state. The research initiative “Pacific Wild” stated that either directly or indirectly, every one of us relies on wild salmon for our livelihoods. [4] 

Due to their vast impact, the current salmon crisis is so important. In 2018 and 2019 salmon returns from sea and rivers were at an all-time low. Populations of salmon that have been feeding the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia for hundreds of years began to return in smaller and smaller amounts. 

These wild salmon shortages are largely caused by commercial fisheries and a lack of wildlife monitoring. Without salmon to supply dozens of plant and animal species with food, our wildlife populations will dwindle and become even more imbalanced. [5] 

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The good news is, there are solutions. Many of which are on a government level, but here are some things you can do to get involved: donate to Indigenous Nations Guardian programs, to research projects, purchasing from local artists that support PNW wildlife conservation efforts or actively participate in a salmon count. 

Salmon counting consists of joining an organization-led event that consists of walking or kayaking through the rivers where salmon go to spawn. Counting live and passed salmon, as well as taking notes of some of their biological markers such as length and coloration. This is one of the best ways to get substantial data on population numbers. [6] 

To learn more about how the wild salmon impact our lives, look for information from the Washington Department Fish and Wildlife, Pacific Wild as well as watching the short film “I am salmon” on YouTube by Rendezvous Diving. [7] 


  1. Learn about Washington’s five salmon species. (2020). Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  
  1. Salmon count (n.d.). Pacific Wild.  
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid.  
  1. Ibid.  
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Rendezvousdiving. (2018, November 14). I am salmon [Video]. YouTube. 
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