Caring for and Healing the Earth

Caretaking Experiences

Slow Down and Save the Salmon

April A. Severin

People are busy going nowhere fast on their roads and want to build yet another, an expressway, so they can get there faster. The fish, too, are going nowhere fast, and the result is tragic. Many news stories speed by in a blur but not this one, it stayed with me. On November 5, 1999 a radio story about the suffering and death of salmon in my old neighbourhood led me to one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I found myself sitting beside Red Hill Creek on the concrete, spotting a large salmon. I needed to know more about their story so I picked up the newspaper at a nearby store. Returning to the creek I soon saw the salmon "beach" itself in the concrete channel under King Street (the site that gets less attention because it isn't as big as the other one). I was propelled to walk over to the salmon and ask him, "Would you let me help you?" I picked him up (he shook a bit), and hugged him to my body. Once I carried him past the concrete to the waiting creek (talking to him along the way), I placed the salmon in the water. Remembering what I had read, I gently rocked him back and forth to allow water through his gills and within minutes the salmon swam away. I began to cry as I sat back down on the concrete for I knew our relationship though brief was significant. In helping the salmon the salmon helped me. This beautiful experience said to me "swim against the current, swim away strong".

It is wonderful that other concerned citizens were moved to save the salmon this fall. Unfortunately all the salmon cannot be saved. A hike open to the public to see the salmon was very well attended. We saw some live salmon as well as some dead ones. At least some people care about these fish, if only we can get the politicians and planners to care and actually do something to help save more salmon.

Imagine knowing your pet cat or dog is about to die and not doing anything to try to save her. Of course, its' unimaginable! This is exactly what the politicians and planners are doing – knowingly allowing the salmon to die, and they've been doing so since 1992. Why can't more people extend their compassion to include wild creatures' suffering? This issue has been addressed to little avail for years through many, many calls, letters, hikes and rallies by many concerned citizens.

Once again the Chinook salmon are suffocating in Hamilton's concrete creek. This large species continues to be unable to reach their spawning areas in Red Hill Creek without help. This sad situation is due to two stretches of concrete. The main culprit is a 212 m channel and the other is 148 m which includes a box culvert directly under the street and sections of channel on either side put in place by unthinking, uncaring people as part of the proposed Red Hill Creek Expressway plan. These concrete monstrosities not only cause a significant loss of fish habitat they also cause the water to be a mere few inches in times of low water. A completely natural creek has varying depths so even in shallow water there are passable spots.

The primary problem is now, as in previous years, the water is as shallow as three or four inches while some of the salmon are as large as thirty inches long and nine inches in height. Often there is not enough water and it is so spread out that the larger fish cannot swim the length of the first barrier, a vast concrete channel with a flat bottom. In 1993, the city's "solution" to the problem of this channel being impassable was to place 15 concrete blocks in it since there were no natural rocks to slow high water down. Since high water flow is seldom the problem here their "solution" was and still is next to useless. Even if there was high water there is not much to shelter the salmon as they swim against the too-fast current because 10 out of the 15 blocks have been washed away. Altering or removing the concrete channels are the common sense alternatives but politicians and planners are more concerned with dollars and cents.

Numerous government documents have been generated on this issue (politicians just love paper!) but the creek remains lined with concrete and the fish continue to suffer. What it comes down to is the concrete channels will only be modified or removed to suit the city's pet project to put an expressway through what little wilderness is left in the city in which I live. If the project isn't completed I suppose they plan to leave the creek as it is today and the fish coming to spawn will continue to struggle and suffocate to death on the cruel concrete.

Editor Walter Peace states in the book From Mountain to Lake: The Red Hill Valley, "Events such as the appearance of Chinook salmon in the creek in 1992 have contributed to a much more positive view of the valley's environmental quality compared to that of two decades earlier." In March 1995 funds were secured for an environmental rehabilitation project. Extensive litter cleanups, the planting of native trees and construction of a recreational trail as well as school outdoor education classes, regular outings for the public and an impressive biological inventory have all helped to reestablish the Valley as an "urban wilderness" to take care of and explore rather than a place to abuse or avoid. The Red Hill Valley is habitat for many species and one of the last semi-natural areas in my hometown. The valley is worth saving as are its fish and trees, contrary to what some letter-to-the-editor writers think, including those who asked "Who would have thought the fish would control our world?" and demanded that we "Pave the Red Hill. Save [human] lives, not trees!"

Why is it that human beings think their needs supersede the needs of all other beings who share the Earth with them? Placing concrete in a creek full of fish is crazy. There are 24 species who frequent Red Hill Creek including Chinook salmon, White sucker, Common shiner and Creek chub, as identified by a local biologist. Although the migrating Chinook salmon struggle the most, White suckers have suffered because of the concrete, too. Today the salmon are still suffocating and dying because some human beings continue to be apathetic to the suffering of other species. When will people stop meddling with the landscape and start practicing living in harmony with nature?


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