Forest Feature: Salmon

A school of Chinook salmon.

If you were asked to name one animal that’s almost synonymous with the Pacific Northwest, which one would you choose? Our Forest Feature for March, the mighty salmon, would be a great choice!

Salmon is the common name for several species of fish in the family Salmonidae. It’s scientific name is based on the Latin word for “leaper,” or “to leap.”

a salmon leaps above river rapids

A salmon leaps above the rapids on the Duckabush River, Olympic National Forest.

Some kinds of salmon can jump up to 12 feet in the air!

But as strong as the salmon is, many species of this fish are struggling.

Salmon have been an important food in the Pacific Northwest since early Native American tribes first settled in the area.

But overfishing, triggered by European settlers bringing modern capture and preservation methods to the region, greatly reduced the salmon population. It has never fully recovered.

While many salmon species are still fished and enjoyed as food, other species are federally listed as threatened or endangered species.

Scientists are still studying what helps and hurts those salmon. But they’ve made some discoveries that we hope will help us help the salmon recover.

Biologists and other researchers believe that over time, human activities such as roads, dams and other construction, have blocked paths into the habitat where salmon lay their eggs, cleared debris where bugs and larvae that they feed on breed, and removed vegetation and gravel from streams that young fish need to hide from other wildlife.

A bear carries a captured salmon across a stream

Bears fish for salmon, too!

We’ve learned that pollution and warm water temperatures can also hurt salmon health. Warm water stresses the fish, and – combined with pollutants, such as fertilizer runoff – encourages algae growth. In extreme cases, algae can remove so much oxygen from the water that fish can’t survive. This condition is called hypoxia.

Approximately 70% of the remaining high quality habitat for wild salmon and trout are on national forest lands. The Forest Service is working with many other agencies and partners to help restore more salmon habitat.

Our agency has helped research what causes of hypoxia, and how to keep river and stream water temperatures cooler, such trees that provide shade and stream flows with deep pools during the summer, which also keeps the water away from the sun.

Watch Willamette National Forest restore part of the McKenzie River in Oregon to a more natural condition by placing large trees in the water in this video:

Water Life: Episode 2 – Water & Wood from Freshwaters Illustrated on Vimeo.

Learn more:

Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.

A Kokanee salmon swims above a rocky stream bed

A Kokanee salmon returns to spawn in this undated photo from the Siuslaw National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

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