If you ever doubted that life on Earth is all connected, in ways more mysterious than we can fathom, consider the salmon, the redwood and the grizzly bear. For good measure, toss in a bottle of wine. Their fates are intermeshed, a truth we ignore at our peril.
A growing body of research is documenting the huge impact salmon have on the health of ecosystems when they swim upstream, spawn and die. In life, they gather nutrients from the ocean as they feed and grow. In death, they release those nutrients upstream -- feeding forests and all manner of wildlife. This includes birds, insects, new generations of salmon, large mammals like grizzly bears, and redwood trees.
A new study (similar to the work our sea otter team is doing by analyzing otter whiskers) is decoding the grizzly bear diet through analysis of bits of grizzly fur. Researchers are finding that these huge bears are dependent on healthy salmon runs for their survival. Lose the salmon, and you lose the bears.
Forests, too, depend on salmon for their diversity of plants and overall health, according to research out of British Columbia's Simon Fraser University.
(Coast redwoods are also affected by fact that there's been less fog in recent years, which may be yet another effect of global climate change. Add in the impact of logging and the decline of salmon, and these ancient forests face a triple whammy that may be hard to reverse.)
If you're not a big fan of wild nature, consider this: Nitrogen and other nutrients transported upstream by salmon find their way into the soil that feeds California vineyards, according to a recent study. Vineyards closest to rivers with healthy salmon runs derive up to 25 percent of their nitrogen from salmon -- a figure significantly higher than on a comparable wine-country river with smaller salmon runs.
What to do, if you enjoy catching salmon (as my son and I did recently), or hiking in the redwoods, or sipping an occasional glass of wine, or admiring grizzly bears (from afar)?
Remember the connections, and act with them in mind. Use the free tools from Seafood Watch to make ocean-friendly seafood choices. Reduce you carbon footprint and speak up in favor of public policies that address global climate change. Join the campaign to prevent clearcutting of salmon streams in California, or mining in the headwaters of Alaska's productive salmon rivers.
And make time to get out in nature to experience the majesty for yourself. Indoors and out, your actions make a difference.
Credit redwoods photo: Richard Masoner