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Diversity: Pacific Salmon
Freshwater fish and Pacific salmon are affected by the condition of waters that flow through Northwest forests. Freshwater fish live all their lives in forest streams, while salmon leave the Pacific Ocean and swim upstream each year to lay their eggs. If the forests are disturbed, either by natural causes or human intervention, the stream waters may be tainted, and the survival of both kinds of fish may be threatened as a result.

Image of a bald eagle catching a fish to feed newly fledged young.  This image links to a more detailed image.The significance of the coastal temperate rain forest to salmonids, then, embraces instances in which the fish spend a limited portion of their freshwater lives there, as well as instances in which salmon complete their entire life histories in rain forest watersheds. Right: A bald eagle catching a fish to feed newly fledged young. What are the requirements of an ecosystem to have the salmon and the eagle meet on this day? Photo: Ed Shay

Regardless of the time they spend there, Pacific salmon are a key component of coastal temperate rain forest ecosystems. They bring nutrients from the marine ecosystem into terrestrial ecosystems: returning salmon substantially enrich carbon and nitrogen cycles in the vicinity of spawning areas (Bilby, Fransen, & Bisson 1996). And the salmon's ecological influence extends well beyond the streambank: at least twenty-two forest-dwelling mammals and birds feed on salmon carcasses (Cederholm, Houston, Cole, & Scarlett 1989). (Nehlsen, & Lichatowich, 1997, pp. 213-214). "Granted with permission from The Rain Forests of Home, P.K. Schoonmaker, B. von Hagen, and E.C. Wolf, Ecotrust, 1997. Published by Island Press, Washington DC and Covelo, CA. For more information, contact Island Press directly at 1-800-828-1302, info@islandpress.org (E-mail), or www.islandpress.org (Website)."

Pacific salmon are generally anadromous - they spend a portion of their lives at sea and return to fresh water to spawn...They begin their lives as newly hatched fry in headwater streams, in mainstem rivers, or in the mixing zone between coastal estuaries and freshwater streams, depending on the species. With some species, the young spend only a few days in fresh water; with others, freshwater residence can last two years or more. During this period, they feed and try to avoid predators. Their survival depends on adequate cover to avoid predators and on the quality of the substrate and riparian vegetation, which are primary sources of food. Survival is diminished by poor water quality - such as excessive siltation or lethally high water temperatures - or by floods that wash juveniles with inadequate refuge habitat out to sea.

After rearing in fresh water, juvenile salmon migrate to the sea, most during the spring and summer. Once they reach the coast, juveniles of some species (especially chum) feed for a few days or weeks in estuaries before going to sea. The various species of Pacific salmon remain in the ocean for one to five years. After growing and maturing in the ocean, adult salmon return to the streams of their birth to spawn. Of the seven Pacific salmon, only steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout survive spawning.

Each salmon species has a life history pattern possessing distinctive features such as age structure, the timing and distribution of spawning within a particular watershed, and the length of juvenile residence in fresh water." (Nehlsen, & Lichatowich, 1997, pp. 214-215). "Granted with permission from The Rain Forests of Home, P.K. Schoonmaker, B. von Hagen, and E.C. Wolf, Ecotrust, 1997. Published by Island Press, Washington DC and Covelo, CA. For more information, contact Island Press directly at 1-800-828-1302, info@islandpress.org (E-mail), or www.islandpress.org (Website)."

All along the Northwest coast, salmon swarm into rivers and creeks to spawn, in places swimming hundreds of miles inland from the sea. They were an essential resource for aboriginal people, and their runs were major annual events - with an occasional poor run foretelling a hungry winter. These red-fleshed fish grow large in the nutrient-rich waters of the North Pacific, but they spawn in freshwater. There, new generations hatch and, from their first bite to their last one before entering the sea, they feed on forest nutrients cycled through a host of aquatic insects in all stages of development. Salmon are a product of the forest. 1996. Edwards, Y. British Columbia. In R. Kirk (Ed.), The Enduring Forests. Seattle: The Mountaineers, p. 125.

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