Who Owns the River, Biologists, Bureaucrats and Bull Trout.

In our history of the Hoh River, we’ve watched the transfer of ownership from the Native Americans, to warring European nations and eventually to the United States, whose state and federal bureaucracies, biologists and bull trout have managed the legendary fisheries of this last best river in America into a threatened and/or endangered species status.

In the beginning, the Hoh River was famous for legendary runs of salmon and steelhead.

There were three distinct runs of Chinook salmon in the spring, summer and fall.

Of these, only the fall run has survived in any significant numbers.

There were summer and fall coho, summer and winter steelhead and sea-run cutthroat and Dolly Varden/bull trout.

Of all of these species, only the threatened and/or endangered bull trout continues to thrive.

On any given day, the bull trout is the most prolific fish in the Hoh River, causing fishers to ask, “If the bull trout is endangered or threatened, how come that’s all we catch?”

The threatened/endangered bull trout is neither threatened nor endangered nor a trout.

It is a char, a voracious predator that feeds on the spawn and juvenile salmon and steelhead.

Despite the fact that the abundance of bull trout endangers the remaining fish populations, it is a tool used by the so-called salmon restoration industry to open the floodgates of endangered-species funding to the tune of millions of dollars.

For example, when Canyon Creek, a tributary of the Hoh River, was found to contain bull trout, the Federal Highway Administration decided to build a new bridge on the Upper Hoh Road to make it easier for the bull trout to swim under it.

An associated multi-million-dollar project will build 25 log jams to protect the Upper Hoh Road. Another 29 log jams will be built to mitigate the damage to fish from these log jams and to channel the river, with a goal of slowing it down and stopping it from wandering across the valley as it has for the last 14,000 years.

This will require 2,500 logs from 30 acres of clear-cut.

Not to mention the tons of concrete to make the newfangled log jams.

The Hoh River has so many log jams in it now, we can barely make it down the river. In fact, the last two fatalities on the Hoh were in log jams.

They are going to build more. All in a vain attempt to domesticate a wild river.

Then there is the proposed “conifer release.”

Because the alder, willow, maple and cottonwood growing along the river are the wrong species, they intend to replace them with fir, cedar and pine trees because the biologists think these species will grow large enough to stop the river.

Although in the history of this land of big trees, there has never been one big enough to withstand the Hoh River.

The Hoh River now belongs to the salmon restoration industry. This is an alternative universe filled with confusing acronyms and weaponized semantics designed to defuse, deflect and deny any criticism of the master plan.

Throughout history, the Hoh River has been a source of high-quality protein for people to feed their families.

The Hoh’s been transformed through the best-available science into a dying thing where bureaucrats, biologists, consultants and nonprofits circle overhead like vultures over a dying ecosystem, padding their resumes to inflate their budgets with a modern version of the medieval divine right of kings.

Salmon restoration can never be questioned or held accountable for their destructive practices that are destroying the resource they are paid to protect.

They own the Hoh River.

Who Owns the River, Continued: I’m From a Non-Profit and I’m Here to Help.

In previous episodes, we traced the transfer of ownership of the Hoh River from the Native Americans, who were the original inhabitants, to various warring European countries and ultimately to the United States.

Once the U.S. gained title to the land through a series of genocidal treaties with the Native Americans, ownership of the land was transferred to individual European homesteaders.

The ensuing corruption of the Homestead Act, where timber companies had their employees sell their land to their employers, who then logged the land and let it go back to the counties for back taxes, ended homesteading and gave the remaining unsettled land to the Olympic Forest Reserve.

With the construction of the Olympic Loop Highway, a road that would become known as Highway 101, a new owner of the Hoh River appeared, the Department of Transportation. The highway was built along the river to keep construction costs down, which made the road vulnerable to flooding.

Large rocks were placed along the road to armor the banks to keep the road from being washed out. As time passed, another new owner of the Hoh River appeared, the biologist. Despite the fact that the Hoh and all our Olympic Peninsula rivers are lined with rocks from their source to their mouth, the biologists determined rocks in the river were bad for the fish.

If this were true, there would be no fish in our rivers.

The biologists somehow theorized that building engineered log jams in the river to protect the road would somehow restore the dwindling runs of salmon and steelhead in the Hoh River.

In 2007, $8 million was spent building engineered logjams using steel I-beams pounded into the bottom of the river in a failed attempt to change the course of the Hoh.

Hoh River log jams are deadly. The last two fatalities in the Hoh River have occurred in log jams. Numerous boats, canoes and kayaks are constantly being wrecked in log jams. Putting log jams in our rivers endangers human lives.

Meanwhile, another owner of the Hoh River appeared, the non-profit corporation.

The Hoh River Trust was formed in 2001 to restore the rainforest ecosystem and maintain public access to the Hoh River. It did this by getting government grants to buy land along the river.

At the time, the Hoh River was considered the last best salmon and steelhead river in the continental United States with the most rainfall, the biggest trees and a natural heritage that goes back to the time when the Thunderbird was said to live in the glaciers of Mt. Olympus.

When the Hoh River Trust showed up, nobody trusted them. The Hoh River Trust worked hard to develop trust with the locals and I, like an idiot, helped them. I supported the Hoh River Trust because they said they’d preserve public access.

Eventually, the mismanagement of the Hoh River Trust lands made them decide to get rid of the 7,000 acres they had acquired. Suggestions that the HRT return the land to the original owners, the Hoh Tribe, were ignored. Instead, the land was given to the Nature Conservancy.

Then, the Federal Highway Administration showed up on the Upper Hoh River, intent on building more log jams. This time, instead of pounding steel I-beams into the river, a practice which kills fish by rupturing their air bladders, it was decided to crush them with log jams made of 16,000-pound chunks of concrete instead.

All in a vain attempt to slow or “buffer” the Hoh River and contain it into one single, permanent, channel.

Who Owns the River continued: The Logging Capitol of the World.

The Native Americans were the first to log the Olympic Peninsula. They cut the Western Red Cedar. Every part of the cedar tree, from its roots to the branches, was used by Native Americans before the days of European contact.

The aromatic wood was split into boards for cedar plank houses. Cedar logs were carved into canoes. Cedar bark was used for clothing. Cedar roots were weaved into baskets. Cedar limbs were dried and twisted into rope. Cedar buds, bark and roots were used as medicines and in ceremonial rituals.

When the first European homesteaders settled here, they used split cedar to build their houses and barns. If cedar was not available, the Sitka spruce could be used.

With the outbreak of WWI, spruce was in demand for use in airplane construction. The Hoh River pioneers split cants from spruce logs and floated them down to the mouth of the river, where the courageous Captain Hanks sailed them through the surf to a mill in Aberdeen — until he mentioned patching his ship with linoleum and was never heard from again.

By the 1920s, a process was discovered to make pulp out of hemlock, previously considered a weed tree. At about the same time, a glue was invented that perfected the manufacture of plywood. With the coming of WWII, logging increased to meet the higher demand for timber. Diesel replaced steam power. The chainsaw replaced the crosscut saw or “misery whip.”

In the 1950s, the state Department of Natural Resources began selling 40-acre timber sales on the Peninsula. The Columbus Day storm of 1962 created a huge supply of downed timber that overwhelmed domestic sawmills.

Coincidentally, the Japanese post-war economy had rebounded to the point where they were buying and exporting raw logs from the West Coast of the United States.

The 1960s were a time of the biggest timber sales of up to 25 million board feet. Japanese log buyers were competing with one another for some of the most beautiful, tight grained, knot-free wood in the world.

By the 1970s, Forks became the self-proclaimed, “Logging Capital of the World.”

As the old-growth rainforest of hemlock, cedar and spruce was cut, it was replaced by the Douglas fir. These fir trees grew fast, up to four feet taller, adding inches in diameter every year.

Unfortunately, many of these fir trees could not adapt to their new home in the rainforest. They grew crooked trunks with three or four tops, spike knots and other defects that made inferior lumber.

At the time, the red alder was considered a weed. In an effort to eliminate the alder and anything else that would compete with the Douglas fir, the herbicide 2-4-D was sprayed from helicopters all across the Olympic Peninsula.

These days, alder is used for furniture, making it more valuable than fir.

Ironically, a June 10, 2021, PDN article reported that state Commissioner of Lands Hilary Franz was hiring a director to find alder logs to keep hardwood mills operating.

By the 1980s, the Japanese recession had cooled the log market.

Environmental restrictions designed to protect the spotted owl, marbled murrelet and bull trout stopped the harvest of old-growth timber.

Logging communities all across the Pacific Northwest were devastated. Loggers had to either move away or reinvent themselves as prison guards or anything else that would pay the bills.

Multi-national timber companies began looking for ways to divest themselves from environmentally sensitive areas they couldn’t log — paving the way for yet another change in the ownership of the Hoh River.

Next week, “I’m from a non-profit corporation. I’m here to help.”

Who Owns the River? Continued.

In previous episodes, we traced the history of land ownership of the Olympic Peninsula in general and the Hoh River in particular.

It began with the Native Americans and passed to various, warring European colonial powers and, ultimately, to the rugged American homesteaders.

The valley of the Hoh was one of the last places in the United States where you could settle on unclaimed land. This tradition came to a crashing halt in 1897 when President Grover Cleveland established the 2-million-acre Olympic Forest Reserve that encompassed almost two-thirds of the Olympic Peninsula.

By then, the elk on the Olympic Peninsula were well on their way to becoming an endangered species.

In his 1885 expedition, Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil found large herds of elk up in the Hurricane Ridge country that were so tame they wouldn’t spook when he shot at them.

With the increasing human population, elk were market-hunted for their meat and killed for their ivory teeth, then the fashion on the watch fobs of members of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

Elk Mountain, off the Obstruction Point Road, was named for a famous elk massacre where the elk were shot and left to rot. Elk left the area and never came back.

In 1905, elk hunting was outlawed in Washington.

Meanwhile, under pressure from logging, mining and railroad interests, President William McKinley and Congress reduced the size of the Forest Reserve by 750,000 acres in 1900. The Forest Lieu Act allowed railroads to exchange useless acres of sagebrush, deserts and mountains given to them as a government subsidy for some of the most valuable stands of spruce, cedar and Douglas fir in the Pacific Northwest.

By this time, the conservation movement was starting in the United States.

When Theodore Roosevelt was elected President in 1901, he selected Gifford Pinchot, a Connecticut millionaire with a passion for saving forests, to lead the newly created Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Pinchot’s goal was to regulate logging so that the harvest did not exceed the new growth of timber.

This balance between harvest and growth was threatened by the increasing wildfires that raged across the west from slash burning in logging and farming operations. The Forest Service began building a system of trails connecting to fire lookouts located throughout the Olympic Mountains to spot the fires before they had a chance to spread.

Two days before leaving office in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt was convinced by conservationists to sign an executive order creating the 620,000-acre Olympus National Monument to protect what was left of the elk.

In 1915, President Woodrow Wilson cut the monument back to 328,000 acres in an effort to mine manganese for armaments in WWI.

By the 1930s, the United States was plunged into the depths of The Great Depression.

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corp. The CCC was a voluntary public work relief program for young men that built trails and shelters throughout the Olympics.

In 1938, President Roosevelt signed a bill creating Olympic National Park. In 1953, President Harry Truman added the coastal strip, which put the mouth of the Hoh River within the Olympic National Park.

The constantly changing nature of federal land management made the large timber companies reluctant to build railroads into the Hoh River country.

Meanwhile, the 355-mile-long Olympic Loop Highway, today’s U.S. Highway 101, was completed in 1931.

This made it possible to truck logs from the Hoh River to previously unreachable markets.

Next: The Logging Capitol of the World.

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