Scientist panel calls for lower Snake dam removal

BOISE — The world’s largest organization of fisheries scientists announced today that it has passed a resolution supporting removal of the four lower Snake River dams to facilitate recovery of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin.

The resolution, passed by an 86.4 percent margin by the Western Division of American Fisheries Society, states: “… If society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams…”

Retired Idaho Department of Fish and Game Fisheries Biologist Bert Bowler is among the vast majority of Western Division scientists who voted for the resolution. The status quo of maintaining the dams continues to contribute to “wasteful spending with negative results,” he said.

“As a member of the American Fisheries Society I fully support the Western Division’s resolution calling for the removal of the lower Snake River dams to restore salmon and these other important species to the Snake Basin,” Bowler said. “These professional fisheries scientists have reviewed a robust amount of peer-reviewed science that concludes a free-flowing lower Snake is vital to recovering these most important populations.”

The resolution follows previous Fisheries Society assessments in 2004 and 2009 of the federal Biological Opinions focusing on Columbia and Snake River salmon policy. Those assessments also indicated that restoration of natural river conditions on the lower Snake River has the highest likelihood of restoring wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Snake.

The society adopted its latest resolution as parties throughout the Pacific Northwest await a ruling from Federal District Judge James Redden, who heard final arguments in a case on the federal government’s 2010 Supplemental Biological Opinion last month. Plaintiffs in the case, including Idaho Rivers United, the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe and more than 50 conservation groups, agree with the resolution’s focus on the detrimental impacts of the lower Snake River dams on salmon and other imperiled fish.

The Society’s resolution says the latest federal salmon plan doesn’t go far enough.

“We applaud the Fisheries Society for letting science speak instead of allowing politics and politicians to silence it,” said IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. “This resolution comes at a critical point in salmon recovery efforts in the Northwest and highlights a distinct opportunity to build a better future and to help our salmon-dependent communities to thrive.”

Bowler highlighted the resolution’s well-rounded focus on science, communities and economies.

“The resolution supports a review of impacts from habitat, hatcheries and harvest that needs to be part of deliberations,” he said. “It also recommends actions to compensate dam and reservoir users when the four lower Snake dams come out.”

Established in 1870, the American Fisheries Society is the world’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to strengthening the fisheries profession, advancing fisheries science, and conserving fisheries resources. 

The organization’s mission is to “improve the conservation and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems by advancing fisheries and aquatic science and promoting the development of fisheries professionals.”