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The Lewis and Clark Expedition on National Forests and Grasslands

[graphic] A picture of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

Image caption: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

The Pacific Northwest – Rivers of Salmon

"The forests
were rich with
wildlife and
filled with
trees of gigantic
proportions."

[graphic] A picture of a large salmon swimming in a river.

O nce across the Rocky Mountains, the Corps set their sights on finding the Pacific Ocean.They canoed down the Columbia River through the Cascade Mountains, leaving the dry sagebrush-covered hills and basalt canyons for the stately evergreen rainforests growing in the shadow of ancient volcanoes.

[graphic] A picture of three men down by Celilo Falls, Oregon.  One man is holding a large fish net.

Image caption: Celilo Falls, Oregon.
Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society. #Gi 156_A

The free-flowing Columbia River roiled and boiled with rapids. Clark described the narrows near the Dalles as “agitated gut Swelling, boiling & whorling in every direction.” Celilo Falls and the Narrows just downstream were the most important salmon fishing grounds on the Columbia River. Tribes converged here during the salmon runs. As many as 3,000 people fished and dried salmon along the banks at one time. Every member of the expedition marveled at the salmon. John Ordway wrote, “Saw a great quantity of pounded Sammon Stacked up on the Shores.” Although the expedition missed the peak salmon run, Clark counted 107 Indian baskets containing an estimated 10,000 pounds of dried salmon in the Narrows, evidence of a successful harvest.

The legendary salmon runs of the Columbia River defined cultures, trade and an entire ecosystem. A salmon’s journey—from birth in a mountain stream, downriver to the ocean, and eventually back upriver to spawn and die where it was born—is arguably one of nature’s most fantastic epics. Birth, death and renewal are inseparable.

Before the construction of the Bonneville Dam in the 1930s initiated a series of hydropower projects on the Columbia, as many as 16 million salmon entered the Columbia River from the ocean.Now, only a few hundred thousand fish are able to navigate past dams and reservoirs that flooded Celilo Falls and the Narrows. Restoring the historic salmon runs in the face of demands for water and power is one of the greatest conservation challenges facing scientists and land managers.

West of the Cascade Mountains, the Corps found the coastal forests rich with wildlife and full of gigantic trees. Although salmon were a significant part of life in the Northwest, the Indians also drew on the wealth of the forests and uplands. Chinookan tribes used the versatile Western red cedar to make sturdy plank houses, dugout canoes, baskets and boxes to gather and store their harvests, and even clothing.