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My Time with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed by volunteer and occasional FCRW blogger Ashley Smith

Last April—as a relative newbie to the Pacific Northwest—I was thinking of ways I could get to know my new surroundings better and decided that volunteering would be a great way to accomplish this. I was pleased to discover that volunteer opportunities of all kinds abound in the Seattle area—but because of my desire to become a better steward of Mother Earth—I narrowed my sights to opportunities that focused on nature conservation.

As fate would have it, by the end of the month I was introduced to Rebecca Sayre and so began my journey with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed.

Over the following months, I volunteered at Watershed Report events—where I had the privilege of learning about environmental sustainability from some of the most ambitious young stewards of our environment—as well as chatted with volunteer naturalists at the Chittenden Locks about the physiological changes that salmon go through while transitioning from saltwater to freshwater.

Finally on Saturday, October 27, I headed off to Cavanaugh Pond to take advantage of the last weekend of the year for the FCRW Salmon Journey program. Considering the mild weather the PNW has been experiencing this fall, the day proved to be a cold and rainy one, so I was surprised to see the turnout—a good mix of habitat restoration volunteers, naturalists, and salmon peepers.

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Brownies braving the rain to watch the salmon spawn

Shortly after arriving I encountered a troupe of Brownies standing by the pond, gleefully observing the salmon as they swirled by. Their enthusiasm was catching, so I decided to join them. I was happily surprised to discover that beyond their joy of simply watching the salmon swim, these young ladies were genuinely interested in learning about the role salmon play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. They even taught me a thing or two about salmon!

Eventually I said my goodbyes to the Brownies and headed off to check out the habitat restoration in progress. When asked by Amy, the Stewardship Coordinator, if I wanted to try my hand at planting a native tree, I gladly accepted.

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Me, a freshly dug hole, and a native tree ready to play its part in maintaining a healthy ecosystem

It was then—while toiling with the soil—that I finally put together everything I’d learned from my time spent volunteering with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed. Up till this point, I’d looked at the knowledge I’d gained about salmon journeys, habitat restoration, and environmental sustainability through separate lenses (somewhat foolishly, I admit).

But as I watched volunteers digging holes to plant native trees and shrubs, and listened to naturalists talk about what entails the perfect environment for successful salmon spawning, it dawned on me how interlinked it all is.

The forests and the salmon are linked in many ways. Salmon need clear, cool shaded rivers to spawn and grow—which forests provide. Trees, on the other hand, soak up the nutrients that returning salmon provide. Scientists have even found salmon DNA in trees!

Here are some other cool facts I’ve learned that have brought it all full circle for me:

  • A decaying salmon deposits nutrients from the ocean into the freshwater ecosystem
  • Their carcasses are an essential food source for other fish, marine mammals, birds, bears and, yes, even humans
  • Salmon are a keystone species—they play a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. They affect many other organisms and help to determine the types and numbers of other species in the community
  • Declines in the capacity of a watershed to grow juvenile salmonids can indicate declining ecosystem health
  • Logging, dams, fishing, irrigation, and pollution have all contributed to declining salmon runs

So what can you do to ensure that salmon maintain their role as a keystone species in the Cedar River Watershed? Well, you can start by volunteering with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed! I promise you, you won’t regret it.

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