the film
Economic and dam related articles

Like Density?
Imagine our Home with 50 Million People

by James Vesely
Seattle Times - November 23, 2003

PORTLAND -- At "Salmon Crossroads," a daylong examination of the mystery of the huge runs of salmon returning to our creeks and rivers, the region came into view like parting clouds.

I've lately expanded the region in my own, internal map to stretch across several boundaries. I'd say the greater region now reaches from Eugene, Ore., north to Whistler, B.C., and is edging east of the Cascades to Kittitas County and the pleasant town of Ellensburg, a pivot point that soon will be linked by jobs closer to Puget Sound than to Eastern Washington.

I'm reaching north to Whistler because of what the provincial government is doing to make the drive up there easier. And the effects the 2010 Winter Olympics will have making Whistler-Blackcomb more accessible than ever.

Certainly, we are in a period of decentralization abetted by instant laptop communication and the diaspora of creative minds no longer leashed to cities. That's why today in the adjoining space, we present the argument for the return of second-tier cities by Joel Kotkin, a prominent thinker about the future. Kotkin uses the term "de-clustering" to explain why regions, from North Carolina to ours, are benefiting from a reordering of urban centers. Which brings us back to the mystery of the salmon and the impact of density on the fish.

The phenomenon of the returning salmon is indeed a mystery because a roomful of biologists, policymakers and avid fish counters simply could not come up with one, solid reason why wild and hatchery salmon are returning in record numbers.

Is it the shift in climate, the oscillation of the ocean? Beats me. It beats the scientists, too, who cautioned that no single thing can account for the enormous population of salmon this year.

But while we can't know exactly what caused an explosion of salmon after a decade of steady decline, we probably do know what will cause a fundamental, long-term decline in salmon stocks: intense commercial and subsistence fishing; modifying rivers and streams; more use of available water and a long list of the after-effects of human enterprise.

And then along comes a white paper illuminating our region and the salmon by Robert T. Lackey, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis and a fisheries professor at Oregon State. It's titled "A Salmon-Centric View of the 21st Century in the Western United States" (Renewable Resources Journal).

Lackey describes a region where today's arguments about density would seem laughable. Here's how it goes: With current immigration, birth rates and migration within North America, by 2100, the region would not have today's population of 15 million, but at least 50 million.

"Visualize Washington and Southern British Columbia," Lackey writes, "with its metropolis of Seavan. You know Seavan, it mushroomed into a truly great city as smaller, more discrete cities back in 2003 grew together.

"Seavan in 2100 stretches from Olympia in South Puget Sound northward through the once-stand-alone cities of Tacoma and Seattle, and on to Vancouver, east to Hope, and west to cover the southern half of Vancouver Island. Seavan in 2100 rivals present-day Mexico City and Tokyo with 24 million inhabitants."

Lackey's imagined other big city of the region in 2100 is Portgene, "the other great metropolis of the Pacific Northwest. Portgene extends from its southern suburbs of what was once the stand-alone city of Eugene northward to Portland and across the Columbia River to Vancouver, Wash., and onward to sprawling suburbs... ." In 2100, Portgene is a city of 12 million, compared with 3 million on the same landscape now.

Can it happen? Sure, but notice that Lackey's bleak future happens with today's birth rates and immigration policies. Surely, they will change as density increases, won't they?

Just like the salmon, we don't know where the balance point is, between resurgence and permanent damage to the river runs, to the cities, to the region.

James Vesely, Special to The Seattle Times
Like Density? Imagine our Home with 50 Million People
Seattle Times Company, November 23, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation