Wild Salmon: an Idaho legacy at risk of extinction

Idaho's wild salmon face one of the most arduous migrations of any species, traveling more than 900 miles and nearly 7,000 feet in elevation twice during their lifetimes. 

Wild salmon hatch as one-inch fry in Idaho's fresh water before riding river currents down the Snake and Columbia rivers to grow to maturity in the Pacific Ocean. While spending one to four years in salt water, Idaho salmon can grow to 4 feet long and weigh more than 40 pounds. Near the end of their lives, they embark on a final 900-mile, 7,000-vertical-foot swim home. 

The final living feat of a wild salmon is to spawn, and then die. Their carcasses provide precious fertilizer to Idaho's most treasured rivers and wilderness. Salmon bring crucial nutrients from the ocean to places like the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return wilderness areas, Redfish Lake and the Clearwater River. More than 137 species, from bugs to bears and raptors to trees, depend on salmon. Without wild salmon, Idaho's most special places will change forever. 

On the brink of extinction

IRU Board Member Tom Stuart is a life-long fisherman and ardent Idaho salmon advocate whose passion for wild salmon and steelhead runs deep. He shares the importance of wild salmon to the region’s ecology, cultures and traditions.

Unfortunately Idaho's wild salmon are rapidly headed toward extinction. In the past, salmon suffered through decades of habitat destruction, over-fishing, new hatchery construction and fluctuations in ocean conditions, but nothing has been so destructive to Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead as the completion of four dams on the lower Snake River between 1961 and 1975. 

Since completion of these four high-cost, low-value dams in eastern Washington state, Snake River salmon populations have plummeted. In the 1950s, more than 1.5 million chinook salmon returned to Idaho. Today, about 20,000 wild fish make it home each year. 

Restore wild salmon, Remove the lower Snake River dams 

Fortunately, we have a window of opportunity to restore wild salmon to Idaho. Removing the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington will give salmon the fighting chance they need to bounce back, and it will also save taxpayers money. But there's not much time. Action is needed now to prevent salmon from going extinct. 

You can be a part of the solution. Write a letter to your Congressional representative or become a member of IRU and help support our work to restore Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead.

Wild salmon jumping at Dagger Falls on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Photo © Greg Stahl.