Study Finds Less Time for Snake Salmonby Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
The Oregonian - April 26, 2001
A "doomsday clock" says extinction will hit a year earlier than expected
GRANTS PASS -- A closer look at a "doomsday clock" for wild chinook salmon in the Snake River offers even less time to reverse the trend toward extinction, according to a study done for a national conservation group.
Unless dramatic steps are taken to reverse the trend, wild spring-summer chinook in the Snake will effectively be extinct by 2016, a year earlier than predicted, the study for Trout Unlimited said.
"The message is these fish are really in trouble," said Jeff Curtis, the group's western conservation director.
The study, titled "The Doomsday Clock 2001: an update on the status and projected time to extinction for Snake River wild spring/summer chinook stocks," was released Wednesday in Portland.
"We've got to make the hard decisions now," Curtis said. "We can't come up with a plan that says we play around the edges for the next eight or 10 years and see where we are."
Curtis was referring to the National Marine Fisheries Service plan for restoring Columbia Basin salmon, which stops short of calling for breaching four dams on the lower Snake in Eastern Washington, while relying heavily on improving survival of young fish before they migrate to the ocean.
The fisheries service plans to reconsider whether to breach the dams, but not for another five years. A fisheries service study published in the journal Science suggested that improved survival of young salmon would do more to restore populations than dam breaching.
Meanwhile, a federal mandate to spill extra water over Columbia River hydroelectric dams to help young salmon migrate to the ocean has been suspended so that more water can be devoted to producing electricity while energy demands are high during current drought conditions.
The risk of extinction could be reduced if ocean conditions that have produced strong returns of hatchery chinook continue, and the drought ends, the study said.
The study was done by Gretchen R. Oosterhout of Decision Matrix Inc., a specialist in risk assessment, and salmon biologist Philip Mundy, who did a similar study two years ago.
The work goes beyond the "Doomsday Clock 1999" study by adding two more years of data on spawning success in the Snake River's tributaries, and more statistical analysis that takes into account the peaks and valleys of salmon returns.
Based on more than 40 years of salmon counts, the study predicts the weakest runs, located in Marsh Creek and the Imnaha River, will be extinct by 2007, while the strongest, in Poverty Flat, can hold out until 2033.
The overall probability of extinction within 24 years was calculated at 67 percent, with 2016 the mean extinction year for all runs.
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