Sockeye Salmon Recovery
by Norm Semanko
One should always avoid the temptation to say "we told you so," especially when it is warranted. Better to be magnanimous and simply let the facts speak for themselves.
Fact: Sockeye salmon are returning to Idaho in record numbers. Already more than 1,200 have passed through Lower Granite Dam, the last obstacle before their traditional home in Redfish Lake. It marks the highest annual number of returning sockeye since 1964, before Lower Granite was even built. It follows on the heels of a record return last year when more than 900 sockeye passed through the dam.
For more than a decade now, environmentalists have belittled the wide range of salmon recovery efforts being employed by a broad coalition of government and private sector groups. Their single message has been that the only salmon recovery solution is to tear out the lower four Snake River dams. They were dead wrong.
Fact: Last year, the number of sockeye reaching the Sawtooth Valley was the most since 1964 and most experts predict this year's total will be even higher.
The historic Nez Perce Agreement which includes using Idaho irrigation water for flow augmentation, continued habitat improvement, improved fish passage techniques, predator control, spawning grounds enhancement; there is a lengthy shopping list of salmon recovery strategies that have been put into place.
Throughout it all, environmentalists have continued their unrelenting attacks, blatantly misusing the federal court system in a vain attempt to strip Idaho of its sovereignty over its waters. All the while they have demeaned any and all efforts to find common solutions, mocked offers to join forces and focus on solutions rather than victories. The result is a legacy of frustration and resentment throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Fact: The numbers of sockeye passing through Lower Granite Dam in mid-July was almost 10 times the 10-year average for the same period and almost 30 percent higher than last year.
Unfortunately, the radical environmental groups, fixated on their single, obsessive agenda of tearing out the four dams, have become so tunnel-visioned they are incapable of acknowledging any positive results from the salmon recovery efforts across the Pacific Northwest.
Even to the point where they would rather see the clean, renewable power environmental benefits of hydropower produced by those dams replaced by power plants that belch thousands of tons of hydrocarbons into our atmosphere or leave nuclear waste to simmer for a thousand centuries. It is that dichotomy of reasoning that starkly illuminates their true agenda.
These remarkable salmon, the pride of the northwest, are coming home to Idaho in ever increasing numbers. Anyone with unfiltered vision can read the numbers and know what it means.
There is, of course, much more work to be done. More collaborative efforts to be added to the growing list of solutions. We must never forget, paraphrasing a national figure, that it takes a village to save a salmon. From Idaho farmers in the upper reaches of the Snake River tributaries to the commercial fishing fleets based on the coast and all points and responsible entities in between, we have done our part and most do more.
But let us also pause for just a brief moment of reflective pride. In 1991, one solitary male sockeye salmon, aptly named "Lonesome Larry," returned to the Sawtooth Valley and Redfish Lake. That stunned us all but also kicked us all into action. Last year the number was 650 times what it was in 1991; this year it's already hit 452 and is still climbing.
We think Lonesome Larry would be proud of the progress we have made.
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