By: Nelli Williams
One afternoon late last summer, I took advantage of a sunny, warm day to take my kids to a playground near Campbell Creek. It was packed with kids swinging, jumping and sliding. Suddenly, we all heard shrieking near the river. It quickly became apparent that nothing was wrong, but that a couple of kids had spotted a rosy silver salmon making its way upstream to spawn. The dozens of kids who had been playing on the fancy new park equipment made a dash for the river and spent the next hour watching that salmon in amazement.
Like many of you, we’re enjoying the sun-induced frenzy of these summer months as much as we can before the slower pace of changing seasons occurs just a few weeks from now. Whether camping, hiking, fishing or cooking out with friends, we have outside our back doors what most Americans only dream of. We even get extra daylight hours to enjoy all of this to the fullest.
For many Alaska communities, rivers and oceans full of fish further fuel the summer frenzy. Finally, last year our state leaders formally acknowledged our salmon-centric culture and economy by establishing Aug. 10 as Alaska Wild Salmon Day. Alongside my neighbors and friends, I am proud to celebrate this day for the second time because it resonates so well with life here.
Like many of you, I cherish after-work fishing trips where we hook up the boat, throw snacks in the cooler, grab our fishing gear, buckle the kids in and attempt to breeze out of town ahead of the rush-hour traffic.
All winter I dream of family camping weekends on the river. Building gravel bar forts, searching for treasures, roasting marshmallows and helping my 6-year-old land fish on his Spider-Man rod. I taste coming home from a fishing trip, inviting friends over and throwing a fresh sockeye fillet on the grill all winter long. Now, we’re enjoying the last weeks of this before we’re back to vacuum-packed, frozen and smoked salmon over the winter.
This time of year, as we count our blessings and appreciate sunshine, I think of our rivers and the salmon that fill them. They’re a resource that thousands of Alaska families use and enjoy year after year. A resource that folks from the Lower 48 dream of, and funnel millions of dollars into our economy each year so that they can see and experience part of what we enjoy so easily and so often.
On the rivers and in my work, however, this year has reminded me time and again that we can’t take good things for granted. While celebrating is important, protecting salmon habitat is the only way to ensure that they will continue to give back to us for generations to come. Clean, free-flowing waters, and the salmon they support, give our state more than $1.4 billion to the economy in recreational fishing alone. Not only do they drive local economies but fisheries put healthy food on the table for thousands of Alaskans.
Simply put, our salmon and clean water are what make Alaska exceptional.
Whether this is something that we are able to hand down to the next generation is contingent upon us, and those we have elected as leaders today. While timber and mining are important to our economy and should be developed responsibly, they should not come at the expense of our salmon. On this holiday, I challenge our governor and lieutenant governor to demonstrate their commitment to Alaskans and the salmon that fill our freezers, give us jobs and fill our children with wonder, by ensuring that salmon rivers are protected from projects that are incompatible.
There is significant work to be done at the state level to ensure our salmon continue to thrive, including opposing bills in Juneau that favor Outside corporations at the expense of Alaskans and our salmon, and using whatever means necessary to protect Alaskans from irresponsible and highly hazardous mines like Pebble and the mines upstream from Southeast Alaska in British Columbia.
Even in tough financial times, if we care about a strong future for Alaska we cannot afford to prioritize the short-term gains of large-scale projects that put salmon habitat at risk. Without these threats, our waters will continue providing well into the future. Our kids will be stuck with the choices we make today. As a mother, I know that means we must chose carefully and I am counting on our governor to make wise choices today.
As we celebrate Alaska’s second Wild Salmon Day today, I’m acutely aware that writing Alaska’s wild salmon story is up to us. Thankfully, Alaskans are tough and innovative; I am confident that together we can ensure we get the story right. Our decisions and actions now will ensure that this generation of Alaskans, and many more to come, will be able to enjoy a lifetime of salmon-filled summers.
Nelli Williams is the Alaska program director for Trout Unlimited. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and two young kiddos. They spend every moment possible in their boat exploring Alaska’s rivers. All photos provided by the Williams family.