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Salmon Would Do Worse Without Idaho Dams

by John McKern
Walla Walla Union Bulletin, January 24, 2012

Reed Burkholder from Boise wrote to the U-B again advocating removal of the lower Snake River dams. He claimed that with six wilderness areas, 12 wild and scenic rivers, and two national recreational areas there would be abundant salmon if the "Corps-engineered, warm, murky carp ponds" were removed. A writer for, he strongly represents the myth that the four lower Snake River dams are the prime reason for salmon declines in Idaho.

In case he has forgotten, Idahoans have been damming their streams prolifically since the late 1800s. Barber Dam blocked Boise River salmon runs in 1904, followed by Arrowrock Dam in 1915, and Anderson Ranch Dam in 1950. Black Canyon Dam extirpated the Payette River sockeye run in 1924.

Black Canyon, Sage Hen, Paddock, Cascade and Deadwood reservoirs on the Payette are more like the warm, murky, carp ponds he thinks the lower Snake River reservoirs are.

Sunbeam Dam on the Salmon River (1910 to 1934) blocked access for the sockeye to the lakes. In the 1950s, Idaho Fish and Game poisoned out the Stanley Basin lakes (including Redfish Lake) so it could manage them for cutthroat trout. It later relented and reintroduced sockeye from Canada. Lonesome Larry of Redfish Lake fame may have had a Canadian accent.

The South Fork of the Clearwater River was dammed in 1910, and the dam at Lewiston blocked fall chinook and was barely passable to spring chinook from 1917 through 1973 when it was removed by the Corps of Engineers.

The Oregon Fish Commission had a dam on the Wallowa River from 1898 until 1914 where the eggs of all salmon were removed extirpating steelhead, chinook and sockeye runs within a few years.

Then there are Hells Canyon, Oxbow and Brownlee dams that blocked all salmon from 1957 on. Add to these and other dams the impacts of irrigation withdrawals, municipal and agricultural pollution, mining impacts, logging impacts and wildfires that cooked fish in the streams and choked them with ash and debris, and it is plain to see, if you seek the truth, that Idaho salmon runs were not depleted by the lower Snake River dams alone.

Therefore, removing those four dams would hardly fulfill Mr. Burkholder's myth. To the contrary, without the restoration efforts spurred by the presence of the federal dams, Idaho's salmon runs would be in far worse shape than they are today.

Posted by salmonsaver at 01/24/12 05:02PM

Salmon recovery in the Snake River Basin is about the remaining free- flowing drainages supported by millions of wilderness and roadless acres in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The Snake River tributaries that currently support salmon and steelhead in Idaho [Clearwater, Salmon], Oregon [Grande Ronde, Imnaha] and Washington [Tucannon] are impacted by the 8 dams and reservoirs in the mainstem lower Columbia and lower Snake. The 53 populations of Snake River wild spring/summer chinook and steelhead - the most important salmon populations in the entire Columbia - are not viable according to NOAA Fisheries. The quality and quantity of the salmon habitat in the Snake Basin far exceeds that in the remaining Columbia accessible to salmon.

A majority of Northwest fisheries biologists agree - restoration will require dam removal in the lower Snake.

Federal spending keeps accelerating to preserve the lower Snake River dams - the liabilities of those four dams exceed their assets.

It is time to take a fresh look at retaining/removing the lower Snake dams.

Bert Bowler
Snake River Salmon Solutions
Boise, Idaho

John McKern, Walla Walla
Salmon Would Do Worse Without Idaho Dams
Walla Walla Union Bulletin, January 24, 2012

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