Remove 4 Dams, Leave These Fish Alone,
by Rocky Barker
STANLEY -- It's in places like Marsh Creek where the hope rests for spring chinook and other Northwest salmon.
No hatchery-born fish have ever sullied the genetic stock of the chinook that run in the clean, clear waters of the 15-foot-wide tributary of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, 10 miles west of Stanley and 870 miles from the ocean.
The DNA of these salmon carries the imprint of 10,000 years of adapting to this watershed. Their range of traits and diversity allows them to survive incredible odds and obstacles as they migrate downstream, then return from the ocean to spawn in their native waters. Natural selection has equipped these fish to face the longest, highest migration of any salmon in the world.
These native fish in Central Idaho's pristine habitat are in the worst shape since 1995, when no chinook returned amid some of the worst recorded Pacific Ocean conditions for salmon, and 2015, when low river flows devastated their numbers.
But the habitat of Marsh Creek is, if anything, better than it was in the 1960s, when nearly 2,000 wild fish returned to spawn annually.
That's why the wide majority of fisheries biologists believe these salmon can rebound quickly if four dams on the Snake River -- half of the eight that stand between Idaho and the Pacific -- are removed.
Their evidence: When Marsh Creek's chinook had ideal ocean conditions and high river flows that helped them cross the dams safely, they returned at levels like before the dams were built. When those conditions changed, the chinook returned to their current track to extinction.
Diverse life cycle
The Marsh Creek salmon quit eating when they begin running up the Columbia in March; only the strongest make the trip back to the very riffle where they emerged as fry two, three, four and even five years before. The female salmon spawn by beating their tails into the gravel to make a redd, or nest, for their eggs.
Most newborn fish stay in the creek for a year before they quit swimming against the flow and allow it to carry them downstream during the spring runoff.
Some do migrate early down into the Middle Fork and even the main Salmon River, giving them a head start and another survival advantage. Some stay in Marsh Creek for two years.
By comparison, hatchery salmon are all released at once and have little of the diversity that natural selection provides.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River has long been identified as a center of salmon production in the Columbia watershed. In the 1940s, when only one dam stood between the Pacific and Idaho, biologists counted 23,000 redds there.
This year Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists and volunteers counted only 52 redds -- better than 1995, but far below historic and sustainable levels. Since 1995, about half of salmon leaving the Snake River Basin died as they migrated as smolts through the eight dams, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service. That has improved in recent years to about 40 percent due to improvements made at the dams.
Remove 4 Dams, Leave These Fish Alone, and They May be Able to Replenish Themselves by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 9/10/17
Everything We're Doing to Replace Vanishing Salmon Might be Killing Them Off Faster by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 9/7/17
A Changing Electrical Grid May Make Snake River Dams Expendable by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 8/6/17
With Shipping Down on Snake River, Farmers Worry About Dams' Future by Rocky Barker, Bellingham Herald, 8/7/17
Northwest Salmon, the Stuff of Legends, Still Struggle to Survive by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 7/8/17
Nature Again Turns Against Returning Fish that Already Face Long Odds by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 5/20/17
Is Snake River Shipping Worth Enough to Keep Dams that Harm Salmon? by Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman, 8/6/17
Fate of Pacific Northwest Orcas Tied to Having Enough Columbia River Salmon by Barker & Peterson, Idaho Statesman, 7/9/17
How the Dams Changed Lewiston, by Ali Rizvi and Sohail Al-Jamea McClatchy, Idaho Statemsan.
Dustin Aherin of Lewiston tells how the dams changed the community he grew up in and how the unfulfilled dream of economic bounty from shipping to the Pacific Ocean has hindered the northern Idaho community's development.
The hydropower posse promotes the dams' importance, by Ali Rizvi and Sohail Al-Jamea McClatchy, Idaho Statemsan.
Will Hart, who represents 130 Idahoans who get their power from the federal dams in Oregon and Washington, explains how important they are to the municipal utilities and rural co-ops that buy their power from the Bonneville Power Administration.
Saving Salmon: Why These Remarkable Fish Matter to the Northwest, by Ali Rizvi and Sohail Al-Jamea McClatchy, Idaho Statemsan.
For hundreds of thousands of years, wild ocean salmon have been coming to the Pacific Northwest. Now, their existence is under threat, along with the communities they support.
Opinions Gathered at Boise Meeting on Dam Salmon Issues, by Staff at the Idaho Statemsan.
A Boise steelhead angler's view on dams, by Staff at the Idaho Statemsan.
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