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Commentaries and editorials

Will We Support Shipping or Salmon?

by Cooper Dart
Idaho Mountain Express, May 25, 2016

A tugboat pushes wheat barges up the Columbia River with wind turbines above the river bank. Federal Judge Michael Simon recently rejected a proposed plan for eastern Washington dams that failed to recognize the dams' effect on salmon. The plan continued to damage salmon habitat and violated the Endangered Species Act.

When four dams were built on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington in the 1960s, the wild salmon population, most noticeably the Redfish sockeye, began a dramatic decline in returns to native streams. Compared to the magnitude of tens of thousands of fish returning yearly in the first half of the 20th century, only four returned to the Redfish Lake area in 2007.

Originally created to provide a shipping corridor from the Pacific Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho, the hundreds of miles of reservoirs and slack water pose a great threat to salmon. As smolts hatching in tributaries come into contact with these lengths of still water, their ocean-bound journey is complicated. The still water absorbs much more heat from the air, and puts a strain on the cold-water fish. They are forced to begin swimming instead of flowing with the current, and this depletes their energy. With this fatigue comes a need for food, and as the smolts rise to the surface to eat, they are easily picked off by birds. The vast majority of salmon deaths caused by dams are of smolts in the dams' slack water.

Climate change will only increase the water temperatures, and smolt fatalities will increase exponentially. We have no time to waste in taking down these dams. It is the construction of these Snake River dams that caused the dramatic decline in salmon, and it will only be through their removal that the population will return. Local and federal politicians need to meet the problem with open mindedness and a motivation to change. Cooperation is the key to progress.

Cooper Dart, Community School student (Class of 2017)
Will We Support Shipping or Salmon?
Idaho Mountain Express, May 25, 2016

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