They were an unlikely ally for urban agriculturists, but genetic engineers in Seattle’s biotech industry finally succeeded in developing a sustainable backyard farm animal for the Northwest: a hybrid salmon-goat.
Enthusiasts are touting the new salmon-goat as victory for the local food movement, a strategy for achieving carbon neutrality, and even an antidote to the threat of peak oil.
Seattle city council president Richard Conlin plans to introduce legislation loosening city codes to allow a maximum of three salmon-goats per lot in single-family neighborhoods.
“Seattle is the birthplace of the salmon-goat, and it’s time for us to catch up with other cities like Portland and Vancouver,” said Conlin in a prepared statement, “These are places where salmon-goats are not just tolerated, they’re encouraged.”
In fact, according to a new 8th indicator in Sightline’s Cascadia Scorecard, Vancouver is the region’s clear leader in salmon-goats, followed by Portland. With nearly 1 salmon-goat per city resident, no other city in North America comes as close to salmon-goat sustainability as Vancouver, BC. By comparison, the greater Portland area, has only 1 salmon-goat per 3 residents, which is still substantially better than most American cities, especially Seattle’s 1-to-5 ratio.
At a largely supportive gathering of flexitarian cyclists last night, Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced the city’s intention to introduce wild salmon-goats throughout the city, where they are expected to feast on the native grasses of stormwater bioswales.
“Salmon-goats are an important part of Portland’s urban ecosystem,” said Adams. “And they can augment our street food scene, as well.”
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Todd Myers, environmental director for the right-leaning Washington Policy Center, objected to the development of salmon-goats, arguing that previous hybrids had not yielded their promised benefits for urban agriculture.
“Remember the banana-chicken?” said Myers, “In the 1990s environmentalists said the banana-chicken would solve ozone depletion, and look where that got us.”
Banana-chickens, introduced widely in the Northwest following their development in 1994, proved unable to withstand the region’s cool damp climate. Numerous backyards in the region were littered with the mottled-brown mushy residue.
Yet environmental groups counter that the Montreal Protocol, which successfully addressed the ozone problem, was made possible by the sort of backyard activism symbolized by the banana-chicken. Moreover, the salmon-goat is genetically engineered specifically for the Northwest’s wet weather. Not only are salmon native to the Northwest, but goats have proven remarkably effective at removing unwanted blackberries and ivy.
Still, some environmental leaders remain cautious. Mo McBroom, policy director for Washington Environmental Council, points out that policymakers should be careful not to confuse salmon-goats with their genetic cousins, goat-salmons, a somewhat similar species that is invasive and damaging to local ecosystems.
While both species have potential uses as “feedstock” for biofuels—an important benefit if worries about peak oil bear out — only salmon-goats naturally sequester carbon while they eat. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, each backyard salmon-goat is the carbon-equivalent to taking roughly 5 cars off the road. In other words, while cap and trade remains the most important overarching climate policy, salmon-goats can be an important part in local carbon neutrality efforts.
Some greens are betting big on the salmon-goat. In fact, the Bullitt Foundation, which is constructing a new “living building“—designed to be one of the most sustainable buildings in existence—plans to devote a full one-third of the floor space to the cultivation of salmon-goats. The creatures will help maintain native plantings, purify the building’s water system, and, when smoked over an alder plank, even serve as tasty snack for staff members.
Imagine credit: Christine Winckler, who took these photos on her green roof.