Behind the Science

Salmon 101

Find out how our Clearwater acquisition protects salmon in Washington.


The Nature Conservancy’s purchase of 3,088 acres along the Clearwater River is the first step in a 100-year vision for a Washington coast where salmon and other wildlife thrive, and where human communities prosper both culturally and economically.

James Schroeder works as Director of Washington’s Freshwater Program. In a Q&A with Nature.org, he gives us an inside look at this acquisition on the Olympic Peninsula.

"... there were elk hoofprints covering the sandy ground, and someone said, 'Oh, this must be where the elk come to enjoy the sunsets and dance.'"
- James Schroeder


Why did the Conservancy single out these 3,088 acres to purchase?

James Schroeder:

To start, we looked at over 40,000 acres of land and had to decide which acres were the most important to protect and restore. Without going into too much detail, we used a model that converts habitat condition into salmon population performance, so we could compare different acres based on how much they’d help the salmon species recover. It’s about return on investment, really. We picked the places to buy that, once restored, will create the best habitat and address the biggest conservation challenges.


What is your favorite part of these 3,088 acres?

James Schroeder:

There are so many great places on this property, but to get to one of my favorites you follow the logging roads up, up, up to the top of the world. There is a spot that has been completely cleared – nothing but stumps and piles of debris remain right now – but you can see the watershed from the mountaintop glaciers all the way to the horizon across the Pacific Ocean.

You can see stands of protected old growth trees, some over 800 years old, towering above the commercial forest, and you can see the river winding its way through the valley. The first time we saw that clearing, there were elk hoofprints covering the sandy ground, and someone said, “Oh, this must be where the elk come to enjoy the sunsets and dance.” I love this spot because you can see exactly why we are working there and you can imagine how much it will be changed when we are finished.


Who lives nearby?

James Schroeder:

Our closest neighbors are the Quinault Indian Nation and this project is really important to them because it will help bring back the salmon that their culture and local economies depend on. The Quinault people always had an abundance of salmon, shellfish, and natural resources and their culture flourished for thousands of years. But, commercial forestry has really hurt the salmon populations, which in turn have hurt the local people. The Quinault have been our greatest supporter and we are really excited to partner with them to restore this ecosystem.


How will our work here impact the local economy?

James Schroeder:

Our work will be focused on restoration – thinning young stands, planting a diverse mix of native species, removing logging roads and improving habitat. Restoration economies provide jobs that last a lot longer than a clear-cut forest economy. We’re going to work with the local communities to restore this landscape, ultimately bringing back salmon to support their economy. But, the long-term restoration will also help local economies by providing jobs.


Why do we care so much about salmon?

James Schroeder:

Salmon are the keystone species in Pacific Northwest ecosystems and when salmon are healthy, the ecosystem is healthy. Because salmon die after they spawn, they nourish the entire watershed – providing food for organisms at all levels of the food chain. Even trees grow faster when there are lots of salmon to fertilize the forest. We need to restore salmon not just for people, but for the ecosystem too.


Is it true that George Clooney fly-fishes here?

James Schroeder:

Yes, rumor has it that George Clooney does fly-fish here. But, there haven’t been any sightings of him yet by our staff – maybe we’ll have to go fly-fishing more often. And no vampires either, so far. Our theory is they avoid the clear-cuts because of the bright sun. So does that mean we’re restoring vampire habitat too?

James Schroeder is Director of the Conservancy's Freshwater Program in Washington.


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