Content and photos by Taylor R. Tupper -Klamath News Department
Other photos by: Norma Cummings- Klamath Tribal Member
Klamath Falls, Oregon– Runners came from California and across Southern Oregon for the 15th annual Salmon Relay Run, a three-day journey following the path normally taken each year by spawning salmon back to tributaries of the Klamath River.
They run for days in shifts, passing a female and male carved wooden salmon as a relay baton, following the path that spawning salmon once took to return from the Pacific Ocean to Klamath River tributaries.
Tribal people and supporters representing the from tribes across the region are running because the fish can no longer follow the same path, four dams have blocked the way home for the past century. The Iron Gate Dam, Copco 1, Copco 2, and JC Boyle Dam have NO fish passage.
There is an added cause behind the 2017 rendition beyond raising awareness to dissipating fish habitats and salmon counts, as tribes stand in lockstep to oppose a proposed liquefied natural gas pipeline that would extend from Malin to Coos Bay crossing several rivers.
The run began on Friday, starting at the mouth of the Klamath River on Yurok Tribal Lands, progressing through Northern California past the Iron Gate Dam, Copco 1 and 2 Dams and JC Boyle Dam, which have prevented salmon from reaching natural spring migration spawning grounds at the Klamath, Wood, Sycan, and Sprague River’s sources since 1917, when all four dams were built illegally without the promised fish ladders.
More than 200 people participated along the journey in the roughly 300-mile journey, to gain awareness of the plight of Klamath River fisheries.
A proposal is already underway which may see the long-awaited return of salmon to Klamath County. Pacific Power recently submitted an application for surrender of the lower four Klamath Dams to be removed in 2020, a proposal currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Removal of the dams would lead to improvement of fish populations, habitats and overall water quality, spurring the possibility of spawning salmon’s return.
While the dam removals would be considered a big win, a new threat has emerged to river health and fish populations, according to Tribes and others along the Klamath River. The Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas Pipeline wants to connect existing natural gas pipelines to a hub located near Malin, then proceed to the Oregon coast for shipment to international markets.
The proposed route includes portions that would destroy Klamath Tribal tribal burial grounds and historic sites, as well as pose an environmental hazard as portions of the route would travel beneath both the Klamath and Rogue Rivers.
“We are working so hard to restore our river, we cannot let the progress we are making on dam removal be diminished by yet another destructive energy project,” said Annelia Hillman, a Yurok Tribal member who is part of the annual run and other clean water events.
The annual run began in 2003, established by four Hoopa High School students, to raise awareness about the lower Klamath River fish kill the previous year that left over 60,000 adult salmon dead.
Diminishing fish populations and dam constructions have had direct impact on regional tribes, from Yurok tribal members pledging to have no commercial fisheries this year due to low salmon counts, to the Klamath Tribes utilizing only trout now for subsistence use, due to salmon runs ending a century ago and their endangered c’waam (sucker fish) being on the endangered species list since 1986.
“For me, Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to do this because my community and my way of life was exactly what I was defending as a member of the U.S. military.”
To best represent the path salmon once swam, not all of the course is actually completed on foot. After ceremoniously dipping two wooden carved salmon at the mouth of the Klamath River, runners eventually pass the salmon to Yurok Tribal Fisheries who transport the salmon by boat upriver.
Runners reacquire the salmon at the village of Wautec, carrying them to Weithpec, where the Klamath and Trinity Rivers conjoin. The salmon then split up, one group following Highway 299 along the Trinity River while the other fish is carried along the Klamath River following Highway 96.
The run is not exclusively for Native American tribal members. Anyone who is passionate about river health, fish habitats, salmon populations, or oppose the LNG pipeline are encouraged to participate in any way they choose.
The path includes an important stop at Miller Island Sunday morning at 10 a.m., site of the proposed LNG pipeline river crossing, to stand in protest of the pipeline’s construction.
Following a ceremony at the proposed pipeline crossing (above), the Salmon runners completed their ceremonial run up the Klamath River, arriving at the Klamath Fairgrounds for the Annual Klamath Tribes Memorial Day Powwow.
The culmination of the run is a spiritual return of the salmon to the Klamath Tribes area, even if the fish can no longer physically complete the journey.
“We have not had salmon here for over 100 years, this led us to rely more on the resident c’wam, or sucker, which also faces extinction because of a century of poor water management,” said Don Gentry, Klamath Tribes chairman.
Since the Salmon Relay Run’s inception the cause has stayed the same, we pray for dam removal to see THE RETURN OF THE SALMON.
SPECIAL THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO HELPED OR PARTICIPATED!
PRAYERS FOR THE SALMON, PRAYERS FOR EARTH.