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Commentaries and editorials

Readers Discuss POST article

by Reader Discussion
The Oregonian, October 29, 2008

The article everyone is talking about at Public Library of Science Biology

(AP photo) Adult chinook salmon swim past Bonneville Dam. New tracking of young salmon downstream surprised scientists.

Posted by MickFinn2001 on 10/29/08 at 10:35AM
Gentle Folk:

I'm not sure what copy of the study you're reading, but my copy is titled: Survival of Migrating Salmon Smolts in Large Rivers With and Without Dams. You do make a good observation though: the Fraser River system is facing growing problems with its salmon stocks, esp. the sockeye runs. The IUCN has recently suggested that some of these runs are critically endangered, endangered, or threatened, and while CDFO may not agree with those assessments, they do suggest additional jointly funded studies are necessary. The point is, for a 'control' river of no dams, you need to have a healthy river. We can no longer be certain that the Fraser River fits that bill, due to non-dam habitat degradation and loss as well as to factors associated with climate variances. Without a good, healthy river without dams as a control, the comparisons being made in the study are suspect. In addition, Ed Bowles (ODFW) has already correctly pointed out that one aspect not addressed in the study is the affect of delayed mortality, which the federal agencies have been loathe to acknowledge. I am glad that you do acknowledge that point. I am concerned, as others surely are, that this study will be used by some as an excuse and justification to once again sit on their hands and do nothing. Our shared resources cannot afford that kind of inaction any longer.

Cheers, Jim Heffernan

Posted by bobmaginnis on 10/29/08 at 11:27AM
We need the 4 Snake River dams for efficient barge transportation and for power to back up future renewable wind and solar power. I agree we shouldn't sit on our hands, the Sea Lion population has grown to about 300,000 on the West Coast and it is time to start culling the something like 1,000 Salmon fattened Sea Lions in the Columbia River.

Posted by pika2 on 10/29/08 at 11:39AM
As a previous commenter noted, the Fraser has its own problems -- though its salmon returns are still FAR larger than the Columbia's. If only the Columbia were so lucky as to have one million sockeye constitute a horrible run. Seven million are more common on the Fraser. If 200,000 sockeye return to the Columbia -- or 500 to Idaho -- it's cause for celebration on our dammed river system.

Check out the new Columbia biological opinion from the Bush administration -- the dams are allowed to kill up to 80% of the outmigrating juvenile salmon. Doesn't sound like a minor impact, does it?

Posted by natbrandon on 10/29/08 at 1:25PM
'Survival of Migrating Salmon Smolts in Large Rivers With and Without Dams' is the title of the study. 'Dams Make No Damn Difference to Salmon Survival' was the provocative (and seemingly politically-driven) title of an inaccurate press release that was later rescinded when two of the study's distinguished authors cried foul. The study itself does nothing to impugn numerous previous scientific studies that clearly show that dams DO impact the survival rates of salmon - as the Oregonian editorial board rightly acknowledges. However, it is disturbing that this editorial (just like the study itself) does not factor in delayed mortality, which is critically important when making dam-related comparisons on salmon survival. This omission probably dramatically altered the accuracy of their survival numbers. For these reasons and more, that rogue press release should have never gone out and only raised questions of who involved with the study has a non-scientific (more political) agenda. I wish the Oregonian editorial board had followed their reporter Michael Milstein's fine journalistic model and weighed in with others in the scientific community before publishing such a knee-jerk reaction. Since the editorial board is so interested in using this to take another look at the dam issue, here is a suggestion: Perhaps it's time for a new study to examine the survival rates of salmon in in other undammed rivers here in the Northwest (as opposed to just the troubled Fraser in Canada). I think then we could get a much more realistic (and frightening) picture of how dams are killing our salmon.

Posted by pr1989 on 10/29/08 at 1:30PM
Does the Frasier River allow NETS in?? The Columbia river needs to get rid of the damned nets. There is no commercial fisherman that makes his living off the fish caught in the Columbia. It is just a nice right off come tax time. It is time for these fishermen to go the direction of so many millworkers, loggers, and others that have lost their jobs. THey need to give up their boats and go back to school to be retrained. Oh, that isn't needed as most have other jobs (longshoremen) already. The Columbia river sturgeon will be gone very soon. It will be too late to save them when someone finally decides they are in danger. Sportfishers get what, 5 a year? Nets bring in hundreds of undersized sturgeon that they keep and give to friends/trade whatever. The one guy that was caught with over 100 undersized sturgeon on his boat got off with a small fine. This goes on every time the nets are in the river. How do I know??? Oh, I used to be married to a Commercial fisherman. They need to be bought out and outlawed on the river.

Posted by lizhamilton on 10/29/08 at 3:37PM
Your editorial avoids some key points about the new study comparing salmon survival in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers.

The most gaping omission in your editorial has to do with delayed salmon mortality, an essential consideration when looking at salmon survival in dammed rivers that is not addressed in the study.

How can we be expected to draw a definitive conclusion about whether or not dams are impacting Columbia/Snake River salmon from a study that does not accurately measure how many fish are returning?

Counting smolts without looking at the smolt to returning adult ration, is like only accounting for the number of parts used to build a car but not being accountable if the car doesn’t work once it leaves the factory.

Though not a scientist, I am intelligent enough to understand the difference between carefully evaluating scientific results and jumping to a radical conclusion that is not supported by the data. I fear that this editorial seemed to confuse the two.

Posted by NWDCOE on 10/29/08 at 5:15PM
We agree that significant investments are being made to improve fish survival in the Columbia River Basin.

The range of measures in the newest plan for fish in the Columbia River Basin reflects fundamental changes in how the hydropower dams are operated. These measures, which run to 2018, build on remarkable progress in not only how the dams are operated to make them more fish friendly, but in the physical structure of the dams themselves. This is a huge change since the first court rulings in 1994.

Back then U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm Marsh characterized those first changes as "small steps, minor improvements and adjustments." Since then over $1 billion has been invested in research, development and testing of improvements and construction of new facilities and upgrades at the dams.

For example, highly effective juvenile fish passage facilities have been added at Lower Granite, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams on the Snake River and at Bonneville, McNary and John Day dams on the Columbia River. These facilities, along with associated operational changes at the dams are providing very high survival and other benefits such as reduced delay. Notably, in-river survival of Snake River Spring Chinook salmon through the entire eight dam system is higher than it was when there were four dams.

While we have been making improvements in hydro, we also have an aggressive effort on-going to address factors that have limited fish recovery in other sectors. This "All-H" approach has been resoundingly endorsed by many states, tribes and stakeholders in the region. Six tribes and three Northwest states recently signed ten-year agreements which provide greater federal investments in habitat and hatchery improvements than have ever been contemplated in this region. We do have a comprehensive and regional effort under way.

A difference is being made, and we thank the region for giving these investments a chance to work.

Witt Anderson
Director of Programs, Northwestern Division
US Army Corps of Engineers

Posted by pika2 on 10/29/08 at 7:36PM
The operational changes to which Mr. Anderson refers were largely won, against the wishes of the federal government, by environmentalists and tribes. They have made a difference, though probably not enough to reach sustainable populations over the long term.

The juvenile fish passage facilities have probably provided some benefit as well, but less than that of the operational changes advocated by the same folks who would like to see more changes along the same lines. Even the feds have admitted in scientific papers that the survival benefits from expensive techno-fixes implemented after 2000 or so were "marginal."

To sum up, there have been improvements around the edges, but we're still waiting for the "overhaul" called for by Judge Marsh in the mid-1990s.

Posted by rickattig on 10/29/08 at 8:52PM
Liz Hamilton:

Your point about delayed mortality is well taken. But it is not a "gaping omission" in our piece, which includes this paragraph: "

"Adult returns are anemic, too. It's surely possible, as some researchers argue, that young smolts may survive the long run through the dam system so weakened and stressed that they will die later."

I disagree that we jumped to some radical conclusion about the study. Our simple point is that many interest groups which care about Columbia salmon refuse to acknowledge any improvements in dam operations. Reading your comments, I'd say that point holds.

Rick Attig

Posted by DavidWelch on 10/29/08 at 10:28PM
We would like to add a note concerning the initial press release issued by PLoS Biology on our paper, which originally carried the inflammatory and misleading title "Dams Make No Damn Difference to Salmon Survival."

This press release was in reference to our paper "Survival of Migrating Salmon Smolts in Large Rivers With and Without Dams".

"Unfortunately, the original PLoS Biology press release on our paper was not seen by any of the authors until several days after itâ release. We disagreed both with the title and some of the text in the release, and felt it misrepresented the conclusions and relevance of the paper. To PLoS Biology, credit, when we contacted them they immediately rescinded the original release and issued a revised press release addressing our concerns. The new version does not state that dams have no effect on salmon survival, which was not what our paper statedâ our paper showed that salmon survival in the Snake-Columbia R system was about the same in the Fraser River during the period of our study. We specifically noted in our paper that much work had been done to improve salmon survival at the dams over a 30-yr period. The statement that dams do not affect salmon survival is incorrect and misrepresented the conclusions in our paper."

For interested readers, the full text comment can be found at: biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=read-response&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0060265

The note from the editors of the journal PLoS Biology in response to our comment can be found at: biology.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=read-response&doi=10.1371/journal.pbio.0060265#r2416

While the title of the press release was unfortunate and inappropriate given the sensitivity of the issue we were addressing, we are pleased that the editors of PLoS Biology so quickly corrected the issue, and we are grateful for their quick action. We would urge those on both sides of the debate to look beyond the title of the original press release , and to focus on the issue of how to effectively achieve salmon conservation while the population of the Pacific northwest will continue to grow. These are pressing issues with no easy answers. We hope that the research in our paper, if it stands up to scientific scrutiny, will help frame a broader perspective on this debate.

As to the question of whether or not delayed mortality is an issue for Snake River salmon stocks, as many thoughtful commentators have suggested, we are working to complete a different research paper on this topic shortly. We believe it too will be of interest.

-David Welch, Senior Author

Posted by dambuster on 10/30/08 at 7:37AM
Thank you, Mr. Welch, for that clarification. And we look forward to the new study that will address delayed mortality, a very important issue to those of us concerned about the dams and their impacts on salmon.

Posted by quilbilly on 10/30/08 at 10:13AM
The issue of salmon runs on the Columbia and Snake rivers should be guided by what is possible on those rivers. In particular, the Columbia and Snake rivers were prodigious Chinook salmon producers. Those runs, particularly the far upriver runs, are either extinct or ESA listed. What does this have to do with Sockeye on the Fraser?

Before someone tells me "if you were a biologist you would know", I have to point out that the sockeye runs on the Fraser/Thompson can reach their old spawning grounds where as the upper Columbia and Snake river spring, summer and fall chinook can not. Mitigation will not substitute that massive loss of spawning and rearing habitat. Destroying every squawfish from here to Montana will not replace the lost spawning habitat in Nevada.

The Oregonian is willfully trying to erase our memory of those salmon runs that have been dammed to extinction with their silly editorial. All the mitigation COE and BPA can come up with will never replace lost spawning and rearing habitat. Salmon runs are low on the Columbia because there is no where to call home and it is not safe for the few remaining runs to traverse the reservoirs. You do not have to research the Fraser to know that.

Related Pages:
Biodiversity: Unraveling the Mysteries of Salmon Migration by Stephen Leahy, Science Daily, 10/31/8
Do Dams Make A Difference? IPS News, 10/30/8
Salmon Study Yields Surprise Result by Jeff Barnard, Capital Press, 10/30/8
Readers Discuss POST article by Reader Discussion, The Oregonian, 10/29/8
Salmon: No Dam Difference? by Editorial Board, The Oregonian, 10/29/8
Track the Salmon in California by Editorial Board, Contra Costa Times, 10/29/8
New Study Finds Fish Do as Well on Dammed Rivers by Editorial Board, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, 10/29/8
Dams Appear to Have No Impact on Salmon by Michael Reilly, Discovery News, 10/29/8
Salmon Smolt Survival Similar in Columbia and Fraser by Mark Floyd, Eureka Alert, 10/27/8
Salmon Study Under Fire for Minimizing Effect of Dams by Warren Cornwall, Seattle Times, 10/27/8
Research Hints Dam Improvements Helping Salmon by Michael Milstein, The Oregonian, 10/27/8
Dams Not Main Cause of Salmon Collapse, Study Says by James Owen, National Geographic News, 10/27/8
Study Shows More Salmon Survive West's Dammed Rivers Canadian Press, 10/27/8
Radio Tags Shed Light on Salmon Migration Routes by Mark Hume, Globe and Mail, 10/27/8


Reader Discussion
Readers Discuss POST article
The Oregonian, October 29, 2008

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