“Salmon to the Quinault people is life.” So begins Ed Johnstone’s story of the intimate connection his people have had for thousands of years with Pacific salmon. “We have a particular species of salmon that’s a sockeye, we call it the Blueback. I would say that is a cornerstone of who we are.”
Then he adds, “It’s a struggling stock right now.”
Johnstone, a tribal leader, understands deeply that salmon depend on healthy forests and rivers just as his people and others depend on salmon. As a young man in the 1970s, Johnstone helped survey and log old-growth forest on the Quinault Reservation. “It was quite an experience to see all this forest as it once was.” He recalls watching giant trees being taken down, one after another. “It didn’t impact me then like it impacts me now.”
“The old thinking was ‘take all the trees.’ Well, we know [now] how important those trees are for cooling the water” – and thus, for salmon. “Sometimes we make mistakes and it takes us a long time to fix those mistakes.”
Johnstone is one of the voices guiding The Nature Conservancy’s work on Washington’s coast. "We are thrilled to be partnering with the Quinault and other tribal nations to heal the forests, rivers and ocean waters where necessary, and to make sure that great traditions tied to the forests, lands and waters continue for generations," says Karen Anderson, state director for the Conservancy in Washington.
Johnstone acknowledges the challenges facing his people today as they strive to strike a balance and achieve sustainable salmon and timber resources. “Take care of it and it will take care of you,” he observes, adding, “we can get there together.”