As my friend Yvon likes to say, victories in the conservation game are hard to come by. But after years of battling to keep Petronas, a giant multi-national corporation, from building an LNG plant on critical salmon habitat at the mouth of the Skeena River, First Nations and the conservation groups that supported them, had reason to celebrate: A clear win. Petronas gave up, bailed, and left pristine Lelu Island to the salmon and the people of the North. Above, a glimpse of the spectacular Skeena estuary as we drove through heavy rain and dark, roiling skies.
At Port Edward, the gathering crowd met a small flotilla of boats to ferry us out to Lelu. That’s Yvon and Spencer headed down the dock.
On Lelu, we gathered around a smoldering fire. As the singers and drummers started in, the rain began to let up and the sky lightened. A procession of chiefs and elders strode forward to bless the pole.
Then, with ropes and the strength of the assembled masses, the enormous, beautifully carved cedar pole was pulled upright. The clouds parted, revealing blue sky.
Great peeches were made, and cheers rose from the crowd. As if by magic, a brilliant sun beamed down on us from a bluebird sky. The pole now stands sentinel on Lelu Island, watching over the Skeena and marking the place where a great battle was won, warning others who try to harm the Skeena or its salmon that they will not succeed. Victories may be hard to come by, but they sure feel good when they happen. And what an honor to be a part of it. When we returned to Prince Rupert, the storm closed in again, as if on cue. I like to think it was our friend Bruce, who fought so hard for the Skeena, smiling down on us.
What is it that makes the Skeena watershed so special? Is it the size of the fish, the 25-pound Kispiox steelhead or the 80-pound Kalum Chinook? The sheer abundance of all six species of wild Pacific salmon, with populations that run into the millions? The gorgeous scenery? The easy road access, good towns and friendly people?
For me, it’s all of those things. I dream of autumn floats down the Bulkley amid glowing cottonwoods; of big steelhead rising to dry flies; icy spring tailouts on the Kalum; casting into the enormous mainstem Skeena in search of fish that match the river in size and strength. The fact is, the unique combination of great fishing and access that we’re privileged to experience on the Skeena doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
But right now, the proposed Petronas LNG plant, which would be built right in the Skeena estuary, could bring an end to much of what we love about this river. This development would require massive dredging of the eelgrass flats around Lelu Island, the very habitat that allows juvenile salmon and steelhead to thrive. Even the Canadian government’s own studies show that altering this critical rearing habitat would significantly damage Skeena salmon and steelhead runs.
What can you do? Click HERE and sign the petition. It’s easy and it makes a difference.
What is it that makes the Skeena special? It’s everything, really. But at the heart of it, it’s the salmon and steelhead. If the Petronas plant gets built, the fish runs will dwindle . Is that a sacrifice we’re willing to make?
<pix courtesy of Tim Pask>
Gearing up: After all the lists and weeks of preparation, not to mention a huge box of waders, boots and kid life jackets shipped ahead, this is what it came down to hauling as checked baggage. Apologies for lagging on blog posts, but the kids and I have been (luxuriously) out of cell phone and internet range, exploring the outer islands of northern British Columbia by boat. It was a truly epic adventure for us, with incredible fishing, foraging, friends and food, and an opportunity to experience what our home waters of Puget Sound were once like.
But before we headed out in the boat, we spent a few days in Terrace with our great friends (and legendary conservationists) Bruce and Anne Hill. Their daughter, Julia, a dedicated conservationist in her own right, took the day off from work and joined us for a day of fishing on the Skeena River, while Bruce took care of last-minute boat details.
The kids were stoked to be in the water in their waders, and Weston made fast friends with Vader the black lab. In spite of the hot, sunny conditions, we also managed to catch a few chrome-bright sockeye salmon, which, along with potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce and zucchini from the Hill’s garden, made a mouth-watering summer dinner.
Up next: Venturing into the salt. Stay tuned!
This is a short fish story I wrote a couple months ago, now published in the current Patagonia catalog. That sweet image was shot by my good friend, Tim Pask, who captures some of the best stuff out there. If the jpeg is too hard to read, click HERE and check it out on their website. Hope you like it.