Sunday, December 9, 2012

Latah Creek...

I drive across this little stream every day on my way to work.  It hides a past of extreme productivity and now bears the burden of dams and agriculture.

Latah Creek, likely named from the Nez Perce word for "fish" was once a very important natal stream for salmon and steelhead reproduction.

It's other name, Hangman Creek also denotes a past of violence as in 1854 a band of Palouse Indians were hung along the banks of the creek.  Growing up in Spokane, that's the name everyone knew it by and only recently did the official name revert to it's more PC name.

Still, I look at this little ditch with a tinge of sadness.  The Upper Columbia system was built for salmon and steelhead. 

Livingston Stone, the United States Commissioner of Fish and Fisheries, wrote in his 1885 annual report about his observations of the Spokane River fishery in 1883:

“The Spokane always has been famous as a salmon River … Indians from all quarters assemble in the fall on this river and at the mouth of the Little Spokane to get their winter’s stock of salmon.”

This little creek that I drive over now takes an onslaught of silt from the wheat fields and agricultural lands to the south where it's headwaters originate.  Huge sandbanks, and I mean HUGE sit at the termination point with the Spokane River.  Its absolute quicksand and blows out the Spokane River for miles on a hard spring rain or in runoff. 

It's easy to think about how fish jammed up the big brawling Columbia River, then into the Spokane River and finally into this little creek.  The creek was the sanctuary they needed to reproduce, along with the Little Spokane and various other streams in the system.

Now, it's a ditch with zero salmon, steelhead and very few trout.  It runs super hot in the summer and stays a variable color of brown year round. 

As we work to restore this creek and others like it, my motivation to help comes from the thought of what was.  Our efforts to get it back to what was may never fully happen but its always better than what is, right now

There are hundreds if not thousands of these little creeks across this country.  What are you doing to see they stay healthy and or are recovering to their former glory?


  1. I grew up playing in that creek on hot summer days and marvel at it's peaceful beauty in the winter when the ground cover surrounding it isn't so ugly.

  2. Without guys like us Josh these little blue lines would be even worse off. It's a sad sight. That creek was once an amazing spawning trib. The stories of indians being able to walk across the backs of salmon conjures up amazing images in my imagination. If we forget about these places they will disappear and truly be forgotten forever. Good on you for bringing it to people's attention as most people probably don't know the amazing history this creek had. There will always be hope and maybe it won't ever be even a fraction of what it was but if a few browns and bows could utilize it to spawn maybe it could regain some resemblance of its former self.

  3. When I was six years old I waded Hangman's Creek after school one day. I fell in and my dad gave me the spanking of my life, saying there was quicksand in in it and I was very lucky it didn't get me. Is that true? Was there? Thanks, Will at

  4. Sorry, I forgot to put that was way back in 1959!