9000 miles

There comes a time when you just have to go home. Since late July, we’ve driven over 9000 miles and put over 20 hours of footage in the can for Amend. People often say “the Pacific Northwest is anywhere a salmon can swim.” Well, the dams in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho have certainly done their part in changing those boundaries in the last century.

The amount of tax payer money being funneled to Salmon recovery efforts is staggering, and mostly spent on hatchery fish. Some dams still crank out an impressive amount of hydro power, but many are in need of prohibitively expensive upgrades to be efficient—or to provide decent fish passage. The majority of dams that are coming out [or slated to] are being removed for purely economic reasons—nevertheless, it still counts as a victory for wild Pacific Salmon, Steelhead, and anyone who has a soft spot for a free flowing river.

Travis and I are headed east next, to interview a politician or two in DC, and then up to Maine to see if there’s still hope for the mighty Atlantic Salmon. We’ve sadly traded the van for some sh*tty airline, but our exploration of this issue is still far from over. We’ll be back in Oregon later this month for the demolition of the “historic” Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.

Huge thanks thus far to Patagonia, everyone who has taken such good care of us on the road, to Sherry for the use of her monster van, to Beda for just being an absolute angel, and to Melissa and Katie for putting up with an absent husband and boyfriend. Oh, and thank you Travis for putting up with me, I don’t know how you do it.

Last, but not remotely least—Thank you to the Telluride Mountainfilm festival for honoring us with their 2011 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant. Amend is one of five winners this year, and three of them happen to be our friends. [Congrats Drew, Suzan and Hal!] Mountainfilm has been a huge part of my life for 14 years, and the sole reason I started tinkering with moving images. It’s a damn good feeling to have them as a partner on Amend. [bk]  

Elwha, be free.

In 1909, 100 pound chinook salmon spawned here amidst the lush ferns and old growth log jams of Glines canyon—13 miles from the ocean in Olympic National Park’s Elwha river. Salmon runs 400,000 strong were not uncommon here. In 1910 the first dam was completed downstream, and the Elwha’s fate was sealed along with many other rivers in the Pacific northwest. Electricity was in high demand, and it was delivered at the expense of many thriving river ecosystems. 

99 years later, the sound of an excavator-mounted jack hammer reverberates off the 210 foot Glines Canyon Dam as crews begin the painstaking process of chipping away at its towering, aging facade. The high pitched metallic sound of the steel hammer against the concrete replaced what would typically be a low rumble from antique turbines in the powerhouse just across the river. 20 years in the making—this historic moment marks the beginning of the largest dam removal project in history.

As the machine nibbled away the first bites of Glines Canyon Dam—a complicated, invitation-only, overly secured celebration began downstream. Various politicians including Washington’s Governor and the Secretary of the Interior gathered to kiss each other’s asses and congratulate the Lower Klallum Tribe for winning a battle to help regain their identity.

The most poignant and stirring moment of the gathering wasn’t delivered by a thoughtful speech or a native american song. As the crowd found their seats, a stunning sight was quietly revealed below the Elwha dam in the spillway. 73 Chinook salmon were circling a rocky, emerald green pool—making regular curious and confused passes by the face of the dam. It’s been 99 years since these fish lost 70 miles of habitat, yet they are still trying to go home. I don’t think anyone could gaze down into that pool Saturday and not be moved by what they saw. That image was infinitely more profound than any word spoken that day.  [bk]