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
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.
U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon yesterday approved a plan for increased spill at eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The plan was developed in response to the court’s April 2017 order requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water through spillways (as opposed to through turbines) to boost survival of endangered salmon and steelhead.
The lower Snake River between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho, is first and foremost a shipping channel dammed in the 1960s and 1970s to make the water deep enough so that barges could safely navigate the canyon. The market, however, has decided against water-borne commerce on the lower Snake River. Shipping there peaked in the late 1990s and has been on a steady decline ever since. That trend continued in 2017.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game today acknowledged that sockeye salmon from its new $14 million Springfield Hatchery in southern Idaho are dying at difficult-to-explain rates.
In a press release issued today, Fish and Game biologists said their leading theory about why is because of a difference in water hardness between the hatchery and the natural lakes and streams in the upper Salmon River system.
Idaho's wild salmon are in trouble, and the newspaper of record for the Lewis Clark Valley, where the debate about the future of dams on the lower Snake River is centered, has laid it out clear. The choice boils down to the cultural, economic and biological legacy of wild salmon versus dams on the lower Snake River.
What's the Deal with Dams is the second installment of IRU's new podcast, Streamline, and introduces some of the fundamental arguments for and against dam removal on the lower Snake River. This is where we boil complex issues underlying the debate down into basics.
Idaho’s salmon and steelhead are in trouble. That means communities that depend on them are, too. This year’s returns of wild salmon and steelhead are among the worst on record, and it’s a quarter century after the species were listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. this Thursday will weigh in on a bill Idaho conservationists have coined the “Sock-it-to-Idaho Act” for its attempt to wipe out progress made on behalf of endangered wild salmon and the people who depend on them.
Before the third annual Free the Snake Flotilla launched Saturday morning, Lewiston native and IRU member Devon Barker-Hicks gave an inspiring speech to encourage people to refocus on building, not tearing things down. “We built the dams,” she said. “We know how to build. Let’s use our collective knowledge to build. Let’s build beaches. Let’s build current. Let’s build shade. Let’s build fish runs.”
Fish Tales is the first entry of Streamline, a new ongoing podcast series that advocates for the preservation of Idaho’s wild rivers and inhabitants. Through interviews with local fisheries experts, hydrologists, public officials and others, Streamline tells the stories of Idaho’s amazing rivers.
Returns of wild and hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead were worse than predicted throughout 2017, and predictions were very poor to begin with. Here's the latest.