River/ water management 

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Keith Parker TEK RecordingKeith Parker
00:00 / 26:35
Transcript of Audio

Hello, my name is Keith Parker, and I am Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, and Tolowa, all Northern California tribes, near the Oregon border. I'm an enrolled member of the Yurok tribe, which is the largest tribe in California by population.


I received my undergraduate at Humboldt State University, which is about an hour south of the Yurok reservation, and I followed that up with graduate school at Humboldt State as well, where I received my Master's in Science in natural resource management, specializing in fisheries genetics. So I'm a fisheries biologist with the Yurok tribe, and I co manage the lower 44 miles of the Klamath River, which is fully on the Yurok reservation.


The Yurok tribe has one of only two allowed gill net fisheries by tribes in the state of California, with the Hupa tribe being the other tribe in Northern California, which are brothers and sisters, just adjacent to our reservation.


As a tribal scientist that wears, both the traditional ecological knowledge hat, and the Western science hat on a daily basis: I'm often asked, what is TEK. And the brief answer is, it's a cumulative body of knowledge and practice is handed down through generations through traditional songs, stories, and beliefs. And when you do that enough times over tens of thousands of generations since time immemorial, indigenous people develop a place based identity.


In fact most tribes have a location on their territory that they consider the center of their universe.TEK is completely at the foundation of the work that I do, and has been part of my mission statement since I returned to academia, 10 years ago.


And that's because my work merges the paradigms of traditional ecological knowledge with Western science and I push back against the false narrative that science is not related to social justice.


For us, fish recovery is simultaneously a social justice issue, and a scientific issue. The two can't be separated, they're intertwined, because from a TEK, perspective species loss is not only a loss of biodiversity, but it's a loss of cultural heritage as well.


So for instance, increasing the abundance of Klamath River fish on my reservation: It's my calling, because for our people, the river is our grocery store. In fact, the closest grocery store that we have is 25 miles away.


So why he might ask is, species loss, a loss of cultural heritage? And that's because, with our tribe, and most indigenous people around the planet, society, culture, religion, language, and food all evolved synchronously, not independently. And so when you remove any one of those things from the equation. It has deleterious impacts to the other factors.


And this is because at the core of tribal sovereignty is food sovereignty. Because food is a foundational part of tribal cultures which feed much more than our physical bodies, traditional foods like salmon, sturgeon, Pacific Lamprey, eulachon [candlefish] they feed our spirits, and that's because these foods represent our living link with the land. And we are truly what we eat, and we eat the earth.


And so for my people, of the Klamath River Basin: Some of the examples of how we've effectively managed fish populations over time, including salmon, sturgeon, Lamprey, is that these fish had been Keystone cultural species for thousands of years since time immemorial, and our relationship, our peoples relationship, and our ability to manage this fishery exemplifies all of indigenous tribal peoples ability to maintain a sustainable fishery. And it really illustrates the depth of knowledge that tribes possess regarding fish and water management.


If you look at it, more damage to the waterways, the fish, the forest, the air, the soil... all of the ecosystems that we interact with, more damage has been done in the last 150 years than the entire previous history of man.


And for the Klamath River Basin, for instance, since the mid 1800s, settlers have exploited all of the resources through overfishing, commercial logging, gold mining, water diversions, and dam construction. Dams in particular have had a catastrophic impact. Dam construction has prevented fish passage, and its cut off hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat for returning and anadromous fish. These dams have closed off the river energy circuit by blocking that dynamic connectivity between river energy output and input. So the potential energy output contained in the flow of a river, of the Klamath River, it's been stopped, and it's been harnessed by hydro power dams. That interrupts the nutrient spiraling, and the recycling processes, and most importantly, sediment transport.


As far as the potential energy input being blocked, that can be seen by the inability of salmon and other anadromous species, being able to return to their headwater stream, because by design, rivers like the Klamath River, they flush. The bigger the snow melt, the bigger the storm, the higher the flush. Anadromous fish are the only organisms, returning nutrients to the headwaters of these oligotrophic streams, those nutrients are contained in their carcasses, when they spawn and they die.


And these aren't just any nutrients, but they're marine derived micronutrients, which are the most advantageous ones. That's why everything goes to the ocean. That's why small fish take a huge risk of predation, disease: to go to the ocean, because that's where all of the really good stuff to eat is, highly dense liquid stuff like herring and anchovies.


There is no other mechanism that exists that can return all of those marine derived nutrients hundreds, or even over 1000 miles if you look at the Salmon River and Idaho, on such a massive scale.


So these dams have acted as anatomy barriers, blocking this historic path that has existed for hundreds of millions of years. All of these Keystone fish species that tribal people have managed and lived on since time immemorial, carry all those marine derived nutrients back to their headwater streams they spawn, they die. It's immeasurable what that loss has been.


I mean you think about it, millions and millions of fish would spawn, they would die. All of the other species that consume those carcasses, they drag them out into the forests, they're very sloppy eaters. They typically only consume maybe the brain and the roe, or the gut, and all the rest of these returning fish, they're absorbed into the ecosystem.


All of that marine derived carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, is absorbed into the forest floor, which ultimately goes into the conifer forests, such as the redwood trees. It's not, by default, but it's by design, that if you take out a map and the Pacific Northwest, all of the conifer forests, and you overlay it onto the map of all the returning salmon regions, that they align.


It's also not an accident that where I live, some of the oldest living things on Earth, coastal redwood trees, some of which, as I'm looking out my window and recording this, have been here since before Christ walked the earth: It's not by accident that they are in the same place where Salmon and return each and every year, returning these nutrient dense, marine derived nutrients in their carcasses.


This was found several decades ago, during core sample tests of redwood trees where they discovered marine derived phosphorus far inland. And at first they couldn't explain it, until they realized, and made the connection between returning salmon and the marine derived phosphorus that are in these trees. In essence, trees are made of fish.


And of course it isn't just the large adult trees. It's all the riparian sections of these headwater streams. When these fish spawn and die, and these nutrients are in that local area, you have a massive increase of riparian plant growth. And those plants grow out over these headwater streams, and create shade. So later on when you have juvenile salmon that are emerging, that shade lowers the water temperature and cools the water, allowing them to have a higher fitness level, and because of all those leaves providing that shade, terrestrial insects make their homes there. And many of them fall off those leaves and into the water, and provide food for all of the different species of juvenile fish that are trying to grow rapidly.


Then all of the roots from all of those plants that are growing in the edge of the stream, they cause stabilization of the soil and help prevent erosion from filling in the spawning grounds, the gravel, for the returning salmon and other fish. And of course, when you have increased plant growth, then you're going to have increased deer, because they have more to eat. If you have more deer, you have more mountain lions, because mountain lions consume deer, and the ripple effect goes on and on and on.


So as I discussed earlier, these salmon are keystone species, not just culturally to the basin indigenous people, but also a keystone species to the forests, the soil, and many other mammals that exist in the forest. As far as management techniques that were practiced historically by Native people on the Klamath River Basin, one of the well known ones was the fish weir that was set up every year in Kepel (sometimes spelt Cappell). The Kepel fish weir is quite well known and talked about in multiple scientific journals. You can look it up yourself, it's: K E P E L. But even thousands of years ago, indigenous people knew the importance of allowing the Salmon to get through, and not to take all of the fish, not over exploit the resource. 


So each year, when the Salmon would return, a weir would be built up river at Kepel, and all the families would be invited to come and harvest fish. Now while the weir was built all the way across the river, there were holes left in it throughout, to still allow salmon to get through. So that way, all of the salmon wouldn't be taken. And then once all of the family members were able to get the fish that they needed, and everyone was satisfied with enough fish for the winter, then the fish weir was taken down, and all the fish were allowed to get through.



I learned about traditional fish management at an early age, spending time on the river learning to row a boat before I even drove a car, learning from my grandfather, my father, my mother, where I live now. I only live about 500 feet from where my grandfather was born in a cabin to a midwife, and my children's mother, her father also born within a thousand feet from where I live now.


As most of the children in our community, we are taught the importance of using our traditional knowledge and our traditional power, our spiritual power, to keep the river to keep the fish to keep all of it in balance, and we do that through dancing, we do that through our daily practices of prayer. And I think it's well documented and exemplified that up until the mid 1800s, the Klamath River basin was well managed by using traditional practices, that it wasn't until the mid 1800s, in fact, a lot of people don't know this but in the early 1900's, huge fish canneries were built at the mouth of the Klamath River that were owned by non native people. And they took literally every fish that entered the river. They built their own we're across the river and the form of gill nets, sometimes they would be 500 feet long, and stretch from one bank to the other. 


There are pictures showing as many as 20,000 Salmon being harvested at the river mouth in one day during the peak of the run. And so by the 1920s, they had almost nearly wiped out all of the salmon on the Klamath River if you can believe that. And it was through some extraordinary government intervention that allowed the population to rebound back thankfully, but it's a good example that, for the tens of thousands of years prior, the fish were bountiful, they were large size, they were robust and healthy, and in just such a short period of time, they were nearly wiped out to extinction.


And here we are 100 years past that. The first dam on the Klamath River was built about 100 years ago. In fact, many of you might be reading in the newspaper about the dam removal that's pending on the Klamath River, the four lower dams, and you can see on a graph, especially in the last 30 or 40 years since the iron gate dam went online back in 1964, you can really see a strong decline in the fish returns for both spring Chinook, and fall Chinook, and all of the other anadromous species like sturgeon and lamprey and the eulachon have been completely wiped out. When I was a child, we caught many eulachon at the river, but no longer.


So the Western approaches to fish management, which one large one of course is building fish hatcheries, the hatcheries on the Klamath River, the iron gate hatchery, and the Trinity River hatchery on the Trinity River site were built to mitigate the construction of dams, so those hatcheries literally are at the base of of dams, and we know now of course, that hatchery fish is nowhere the same as a wild fish, they carry deleterious genes of all types of bad mutations, they are more prone to disease there are lower body size, they have an altered runtime mean, so hatcheries do not solve the problem of a lack of fish being able to run, you know, in their traditional habitat that are now blocked by dams.


And remember, the dams that we're discussing the Copco one, Copco two, the boil gate dam, and iron gate dam, have no fish passage. There's no fish ladders, there's no bypass at all. At least as they had been given fish bypass, many of the fish would still be able to traverse and go all the way up to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and ultimately to those headwater streams of the Wood, the Williamson, and the Sprage rivers, which (go over on a map if you look) go almost to Idaho. So this is a massive river system.


The deleterious impacts of hatchery fish was shown in many papers, but recently there was an Oregon State University paper that came out that they compared side by side. A generation of hatchery spawning fish to wild fish, and after only one generation, the genotype of the offspring of the wild salmon compared to the first generation hatchery salmon, They differ at more than 700 genes. That's just one generation. So you can imagine, if you start doing that over, you know, ten, twenty, thirty generations... what the genetic impacts have been. And of those 700 Plus genes, the genes were in predominantly three areas: Their ability to resist disease, their body size, and their wound healing capabilities. Obviously three very important areas for any organism.


I would say that TEK should be taken more seriously. In both academia and by policymakers, because most indigenous populations have relied for centuries, or tens of thousands of years on our direct environment for subsistence. So over time, we've developed a way in which to manage and use our resources that ensures conservation to the future.


Therefore, we're more interested in preserving our own social, cultural and environmental stability, and our integrity, rather than maximizing production or exploiting nature. We've been interacting with the natural world since time immemorial. And so, our entire culture, our social norms are based on a strong sense of interconnectivity and interdependence. So because of that, ethics and integrity are an integral part of that traditional approach. And that approach worked for tens of thousands of years, up until modern contact.


Clearly, from the obvious 90% plus reduction in fish populations increased disease, increased water temperature, increased blue green algae blooms, and the list goes on: the modern techniques for basin, and water, and fish management does not work.


In brevity, the Klamath River has lost its capacity for self renewal at this point. And we all have to work diligently to do whatever we have to, to make sure that we give the river the ability to get that capacity back. Starting with dam removal of the four lower dams on the Klamath River, which will open up approximately 500 miles of additional spawning grounds and repatriate these fish to their aboriginal habitats.


By doing so, we will also increase the flushing flows from all the way at the headwaters to the Pacific Ocean. So we won't see these huge buildups of algae blooms works, which are extremely toxic to not only the fish and terrestrial animals, but also the human beings as signs go up every summer in our community warning us not to use the water, not to swim in the water, not to drink the water. Pets often die from drinking Klamath River water in the late summer and fall.


More examples would be looking at the Sandy River dam removal in Oregon, the Elwha dam removal in Washington, and most recently, the San Clemente dam removal on the Carmel River in Southern California, which has been the largest dam removal today in the state of California. And one commonality, all of those dam removals, is that the river fairly rapidly healed itself, with very little help from human beings. And what I would really like to say to policymakers is that: You can't remove hundreds of millions of years of genetic diversity, with just 100 years of the dam building. So one of the arguments for dam removal, is that these fish have now adapted to this new climate and this new water, that's absolutely not true. We know that all organisms including the Klamath River salmon, carry the recessive genes of their ancestors, as we all do with just a little bit of help, those genes could be brought back out. And we could have a robust salmon population, fairly quickly. As we've seen on the Elwha River in Washington.


We all live down river. And no one, including the multinational conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, which owns Pacific Corp which owns the dams has the right to divert our water, take our water, and sell our water at the expense of not only the natural world, but the expense of our tribal and our cultural identity. [Transcribed by Sierra Gerber].