By Roberta Attanasio
There are many remarkable features of salmon, and one of these is their ability to travel thousands of miles in the ocean, struggle with river currents and waterfalls, and finally reach their hatching place. Indeed, salmon live in the ocean, but are born and spawn in freshwater rivers and streams. The young salmon spend at least some of their early lives in freshwater, before swimming to the sea — where they grow and mature. With a few exceptions, Pacific salmon spawn only once and die within days of digging their nests in the gravel and mating.
Coho salmon — one of seven species of Pacific salmon — is famous for its acrobatic leaps out of the water and can be found in most waters that drain into the north Pacific Ocean, from Japan and Siberia to Alaska and California. Now, it’s even at home in the Great Lakes, as it can adapt to live entirely in fresh water.
Coho fry — juveniles that have absorbed their egg sac — live in rivers and streams for over a year, feeding on zooplankton, insects and small fish, and they’re happy to see Christmas trees around them. Indeed, fish utilize underwater trees as cover from predators as well as for foraging and spawning — programs that recycle Christmas trees as aquatic habitat for fish are becoming more popular across the country.
One of these programs — “Christmas for Coho” — is organized and implemented by the Tualatin Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, a conservation group whose members are Northwest Oregon residents. The program is already in its third year. Volunteers collect used Christmas trees and transport them to the Northwest Oregon coast — trees are then placed into an off channel wetland near Seaside to provide appropriate habitat for Coho salmon.
Mike Gentry, one of the group members involved in the Christmas for Coho project, told the Portland Tribune that underwater photos show fish congregating under the trees even before volunteers finish their work in the river.
According to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, salmon species have been declining dramatically on the West coast of the United States during the past several decades. Various human-induced and natural factors are responsible for this decline. Currently, a variety of conservation initiatives are underway, for example captive-rearing in hatcheries and removal and modification of dams that obstruct salmon migration.
Other important conservation initiatives involve the restoration of degraded habitat — the Christmas for Coho project is one of these initiatives. Christmas trees replace the woody debris that are now sparsely present in backwaters and wetlands because of modifications of the natural environment.