It is late December along the north fork of Ecola Creek in the Clatsop State Forest near Cannon Beach and Jerome Arnold is wading through the cold waters, and will be for hours.

He is not fishing, but he is looking for fish. What drives a 62-year-old, former electrical engineer to do this?

It is a love for salmon and the habitat the fish need to survive.

"It would be absolutely criminal, or at least shameful, if we allow these creatures to go extinct," said Arnold.

With his dog, Xena, he will regularly put in eight hours a month walking the creek documenting the number of spawning salmon present. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife uses the data to help monitor the recovery of salmon, some of which are listed as endangered species.

And the time he spends searching for salmon is just a part of the conservation work Arnold does. He is also vice president of the Ecola Creek Awareness Project, a nonprofit group formed to promote the stream's health, a member of the Ecola Creek Watershed Council, a government body set up to help manage the creek's watershed, and an elected representative on the Clatsop County Soil and Water Conservation District.

But Arnold wasn't always so devoted to the outdoors. Now retired, the Cannon Beach resident once sweated for the U.S. Navy as an electronics technician on missile submarines, and later stressed-out in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley in the 1970s.

Originally from Sweet Home, Arnold came back to Oregon after tiring of the frenetic pace in the hi-tech industry and Silicon Valley.

"I came to the ugly realization that I was not cut out for city life," he said. "I felt I was spending a good portion of my life at a stop light."

He came to Cannon Beach in 1975. He worked in metal sculpture and did odd construction jobs. But some of the environmental beauty for which he returned is now gone. And that's what motivates him.

"We've put roads everywhere, and we've logged everything off, and the salmon are an indication that something is not right," said Arnold.

Although he is strong advocate for the environment, he doesn't blame any one group, such as loggers, for all the environmental deterioration he sees. He feels there is plenty of blame to go around.

Arnold doesn't just monitor the salmon; he acts to help them. Salmon fingerlings become trapped in the creek's side pools by declining water levels during summer. He rescues them and places them back in the main stream. And in September, he participated in a multi-agency habitat restoration project that placed large wooded debris in the creek. The debris, mainly tree trunks, creates good habitat for both adult salmon and fingerlings by slowing water-flow and forming quiet areas in the creek.

Why the devotion to salmon? It is partly because of their natural history, their need to return from the ocean to their home spawning grounds to reproduce.

"The courage that these fish exhibit is universally admired," he said.

And especially admired by one Jerome Arnold.

- Patrick Drake


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