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The Science is In: Bypass the Dams

Idaho Rivers United
Newsletter, August 1999

1999 marks a pivotal year in the battle to save Idaho's ocean-going fish. Over the next six months, the federal government and the people of the Northwest will decide whether Idaho will keep the magnificent wild salmon and steelhead runs that have graced our rivers for over 10,000 years.

Under court order, the Clinton Administration must produce a plan to save Snake River salmon and steelhead by the end of 1999. Two major documents will lay out the Administration's plan. The Corps of Engineers will release a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) in October, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will make the actual 1999 decision via a biological opinion early next year.

Three major recovery options are under consideration. The first is to maintain the status quo. A recent study found this option would likely drive wild chinook runs into extinction by the year 2017. The second option would increase juvenile fish barging and take huge amounts of water from southern Idaho. This amounts to doing even more of what hasn't worked for the past 25 years while taking the very lifeblood away from southern Idaho farmers and irrigators. Conservative estimates show this would dry up 350,000 acres of farmland. The third alternative is the natural river option, also known as bypassing or breaching the four lower Snake River dams. The vast majority of scientists say this option offers the best and only chance of restoring our wild salmon and steelhead runs. The probability of recovery under this scenario ranges from 80 - 90 percent.


Little question remains about which path must be taken if wild salmon and steelhead are to be saved. Virtually all of the science says we must now choose between salmon and dams. The rationale for this decision is clear. First, Northwest ratepayers and taxpayers have spent $3 billion on salmon recovery over the past 15 years with nothing to show for it. The current system of pumping out millions of hatchery fish every year and loading them into barges and trucks has done nothing to stop the decline of our wild runs. Removing only four dams -- out of over 400 in the Columbia basin -- will restore our salmon runs and stop the financial bleeding.

We know that dams are the major culprit because our salmon runs have declined by 90 percent over the past 25 years while downriver stocks have held steady. Downriver stocks now survive to adulthood at rates two to ten times higher than Idaho's fish. Before the lower Snake dams were built, Idaho's salmon used to survie at rates equal to or greater than their downriver cousins. These downriver fish share the same life cycles and faced the same ocean conditions, predators, and commercial fishing as Idaho's fish. The only difference is Idaho's salmon face eight dams, while downriver stocks face four or less.

Idaho's salmon need a more natural, free-flowing river in order to survive their journey to the ocean and back. The Gem State still has 4,000 miles of prime spawning and rearing habitat that lies vacant because salmon are not surviving the dams. Bypassing the dams is the only option that will re-open the historic migration corridor that is so vital to Idaho's salmon. Central Idaho's majestic wilderness will never be complete without wild salmon and steelhead.

Scientists across the board agree that nothing short of bypassing the dams is likely to save our salmon and steelhead. The salmon need it, the region can afford it, and our electric rates will still be the cheapest in the nation by a long shot.

The biggest question that remains is whether enough people will speak up on behalf of the salmon during the next six months. Will you?

Join the Action Network!

After the Army Corps' plan is released, a series of public hearings will be held across the state. It is critically important for salmon advocates to attend at least one of these hearings to support the dam bypass option. In the meantime, we need an army of salmon warriors to write letters to our elected leaders. We have organized several salmon work groups throughout Idaho.

Contact Dan at Idaho Rivers United to get involved in our statewide activist network. (208)343-7481

Senator Dirk Kempthorne
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Congressman Mike Crapo
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Barging Kills Steelhead

"Steelhead collection and barging should be phased-out in favor of a comprehensive program to increase the survival of in-river migrants to levels necessary for recovery."
- Idaho Fish & Game Commision, August 15, 1997

This call to action for Idaho's steelhead is from:
Idaho Steelhead & Salmon Unlimited
Idaho Rivers United
Idaho Wildlife Federation
Idaho Trout Unlimited

Idaho Rivers United
The Science is In: Bypass the Dams
Newsletter, Saving Idaho's Salmon, News from the Living River Campaign - August 1999

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