One hundred years ago this May, near the end of his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt addressed a White House gathering. Among those present were 41 of 46 governors, nine Supreme Court Justices, most of the cabinet, congressmen, industrialists, labor leaders and scientists.
Roosevelt said, “We must handle the water, the wood, the grasses so that we will hand them on to our children and our children’s children in better and not worse shape than we got them.” (Smithsonian Jan 2008)
In the same era, Reddingites annually lined Calaboose Creek along Oregon Street from Yuba to Shasta streets and pitchforked fresh salmon to waiting friends and family (personal communication, late Judge Richard Eaton).
Today we learn the once mighty Sacramento River chinook population is crashing to extinction from already atrophied levels of five years ago. This watershed was so king-salmon friendly that it hosts four distinct runs; the only river to do so. In 1940 dollars, salmon canning on the Sacramento River was an annual $100 million (read billions today) dollar industry.
Experts debate the possible and likely multiple reasons for this resource being destroyed so quickly. Interestingly, all the explanations involve us as the prime suspects. These are not academic discussions concerning an elderberry bark beetle or some other unknown endangered species.
The Allied Stream Team of Rotary Club of Redding has attempted in manifest ways to show the local community that we can and should make a difference. Such is the proven case from better functioning streams able to carry winter rain and prevent flooding, reduced fire hazard from the removal of incendiary Arundo, tons of litter abatement, heightened awareness via labeled storm drains and crossing signs and a variety of other projects which preserve and enhance our natural surroundings.
Likely the Tracy Pumps will prevail over salmon as fish have always lost against human greed and ignorance. The emergency measures necessary to preserve this ancient and valuable resource depend upon political will, not better science. Once large, today virtually absent, wild salmon populations in Norway, Scotland, England, Atlantic Canada and here over the last thousand years predict the cataclysm now again being repeated.
Yet our mission is still valid for a number of other reasons. If Shasta Dam has taken ancestral spawning beds, if Southern California swimming pools dictate what happens to our precious resources; there is still validity in being good and concerned citizens. We have a world-class cold-water trout stream where one did not exist previously. Our mandate at the present Sacramento River headwater is to do the best we can for ourselves and our posterity by ensuring diversity, communicating possible choices and fostering stewardship.
The Environment Committee has established an enviable record of concern and commitment for the promotion of worthwhile endeavors which follow Roosevelt’s admonition.
We can, we must, protect the future by the wise use of today.
The piece was solicited and prepared for a coming “Spillway” edition, the weekly publication of Rotary Club of Redding. Randy Smith is a retired physician, member City of Redding Planning Commission, Cal-Tip Advisory Board, Rotary Club of Redding Stream Team.