Guido Rahr was raised from smolt to adult by flyfishing-obsessed family members in Portland, OR. Tying flies and fishing were his passions. He went on to work for the Nature Conservancy, completed grad school, and eventually migrated back to his homewater on the Deschutes.
At that time, in the early ’90s, salmon faced hard times. Many were proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Rahr saw a need for action. He went to work for Oregon Trout and began to develop a proactive strategy, one focused on getting ahead of ESA listings and the extinction curve.
“If you want to have a salmon river in 100 years,” he says, “target the populations that are relatively strong now. You’ll have a better chance of success preventing bad things from happening tomorrow.
This “stronghold approach” had teeth. It was the missing piece of the puzzle that had yet to be tackled. And it’s propelled Rahr to where he is today. Rahr is currently president and CEO of the Wild Salmon Center [WSC] and in addition to getting banned from restaurants for voicing opinions on unethical menu selections, he’s helping lead the charge for salmon conservation on domestic turf and beyond.
We recently sat down with him for a Drake 6-pack. Here’s what he had to say.
The Drake: Are we making headway in the fight for salmon conservation and how does your stronghold approach play into the equation?
GR: The stronghold approach is really a focused international effort to go into those last, best places and prevent them from being damaged. None of this stuff happens quickly. What we’ve learned is you take an upfront investment of time, relationships, and partnerships, and it’s really started to pay off.
The Drake: You’ve been successful protecting massive areas and whole riversheds in Russia and the Far East. At home, Bristol Bay is a major blip on the salmon conservation radar. What’s been the WSC’s involvement to date?
GR: We’ve been working a two-pronged approach: the first being a scientific analysis of Pebble Mine’s potential impacts, which we released a year ago. It provided the first comprehensive overview of the damages this kind of mining would have on salmon ecosystems.
We’re also working with TU and other partners, trying to build support for the preemptive veto by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]. The effort to stop Pebble is really no one group. It’s all of us doing everything we can.
The Drake: As someone who understands the political process in AK and the power of the pro-mine contingent, do the salmon stand a chance? What’s the likelihood the EPA will exercise its authority under the Clean Water Act to stymie the Pebble Partnership?
GR: I think our odds of winning this are good. The question is whether or not we’ll allow a Canadian company to build one of the biggest copper and gold mines in the Americas on public lands and on the headwaters of two of the most productive salmon rivers in the world. It’s crazy.
In Alaska, poling shows that the majority of residents are against this mining project. There’s so much outrage and salmon have a big constituency. I think we can win it.
The Drake: In the battle to maintain salmon strongholds worldwide, how do pastimes, passions, and loved ones play into the mix?
GR: This has been transformational for me. When I became a dad it changed the way I thought about time. I’ll turn 53 in November and my youngest son is 7. When he’s my age the global population will reach 6 to 9 billion. Three billion people will be entering the middle class, with the same demands we have on water, food, and trees. This will quadruple the impact on all the things we care about.
The Drake: What does that mean for the future of salmon rivers?
GR: If you look at what we have to do to deliver something as powerful and means so much as a wild salmon river… if we don’t take care of it today, it will not be there for them.
The Drake: Have you ever been banned from a certain Portland eatery? Take us back to that moment.
GR: It’s actually a sushi restaurant located right in front of our offices. I used to go there a lot. I went in one afternoon and there was bluefin tuna on the fish-special board and they told me it was Atlantic bluefin. I think it was legal for them to sell that fish but it wasn’t exactly ethical, considering it’s trending straight toward extinction.
I dropped off some info the next day and was told they wouldn’t serve me anymore. I don’t think they knew what I did for a living and I wrote them a note on our letterhead, which eventually was leaked into the media, including The Atlantic and The Huffington Post.
Bottom line, Sinju took bluefin tuna off its menu. But I still can’t go back in there.
Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.