Idaho sockeye salmon named one of nation's most endangered species

BOISE — Idaho’s endangered sockeye salmon are highlighted as one of the nation’s most endangered species in a report released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. 

The report, Water Woes: How Dams, Diversions, Dirty Water and Drought Put America’s Wildlife at Risk examines the ways that poor water quality and reduced water quantity threaten imperiled species in 10 ecosystems across the United States. It cites three west coast salmon species — including Idaho sockeye.

“This report reiterates what folks in Idaho have known for a long time, and that’s that our sockeye salmon — and all of our salmon — are suffering because of unneeded dams on the lower Snake River,” said IRU board member Tom Stuart. “This year is the 20-year anniversary of the return of a lone sockeye salmon to Idaho. And we unfortunately haven’t come very far since then.”

Dubbed Lonesome Larry, the lone sockeye returned to Redfish Lake in 1992, a year after his species was listed as an endangered.

“Dams built for hydropower, navigation, and water diversion are major factors impacting these three species’ declining populations,” the report states. “In addition to blocking migration routes to and from spawning habitat, dams create slow-moving water reservoirs, which allow river temperatures to reach levels considered dangerous or even lethal to cold-water species like the sockeye.”

Stuart said Pacific Northwest salmon are vital to the environment, economy and quality of life.

“Snake River sockeye are remarkable because they migrate farther and higher than any other sockeye in the world,” Stuart said. “They are the most endangered salmon the Northwest because of dams.”

In August 2011 a federal judge overturned a fourth federal salmon recovery plan for failure to do enough for Idaho’s endangered salmon, and remanded the plan for a rewrite due in January 2014. 

“That means there’s an opportunity right now to bring stakeholders together to resolve this issue,” Stuart said. “There’s increasing momentum among our political leaders to do this, and it’s an opportunity we stand ready to seize.

The Endangered Species Coalition has produced a “Top 10” report annually for the last five years. Water Woes can be downloaded