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Federal Judge Mulls Salmon Issue

by Tony Evans
Idaho Mountain Express, May 18, 2011

Decision looms large for migrating fish

An endangered sockeye salmon is released into Redfish Lake south of Stanley. Ocean-running salmon and steelhead must swim about 900 miles to spawn in the Salmon River in the remote Stanley Basin north of Ketchum.

Theirs is one of the longest runs of any ocean-going fish in the world. Regional salmon advocates would like to make the trip a lot easier, by removing hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River.

Four species of ocean-running fish once returned to Idaho in immense numbers, perhaps as many as 2.5 million fish each year. Sockeye salmon, colored deep red while spawning, gave the name to Redfish Lake near Stanley. Damming, over-fishing and destruction of habitat over many years reduced the number to a trickle during the last century.

Idaho's coho salmon went extinct in 1986. Only 22 endangered sockeye salmon, on average, returned to the state during the 1990s. Steelhead is a threatened species today.

Thanks to legislated conservation efforts, including the use of spillways, fish ladders and barges, and fish hatcheries, steelhead and salmon are coming back from the brink of extinction. Last year 1,300 sockeye returned to the state, a significant increase, but no cause for celebration among fish advocates.

"It is a hopeful sign, but we do not want people to take home an illusion of a recovery," said Greg Stahl, assistant policy director at the advocacy group Idaho Rivers United.

"Only 2 percent of the 2.5 million fish that used to come back to Idaho come back today, and the vast majority of these are hatchery-raised fish," Stahl said.

A recent surge in returning steelhead (212,000 last year) brought further signs of hope, and an unusual open season on the species for sport-fisherman. But only 15 percent of the steelhead were wild, Stahl said.

Idaho Rivers United, the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe and about 50 environmental groups have sued the federal government to make changes that would increase the runs enough to de-list the remaining endangered and threatened species.

Fish advocates maintain that the greatest challenges to the return of healthy runs of salmon and steelhead are hydroelectric power-producing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Related Pages:
Breaching the Dams? by Peter DeFazio, Eugene Weekly, 5/3/11
DeFazio's Role in the Columbia Basin Salmon Crisis by Sheena Moore, Eugene Weekly, 4/21/11
Saving Salmon: Time to Get Out of the Courtroom and Into the River by Doc Hastings & DeFazio, The Oregonian, 3/11/11

Tony Evans
Federal Judge Mulls Salmon Issue
Idaho Mountain Express, May 18, 2011

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