Governor's Salmon Work Group
A variety of government and Tribal agency scientists put
the river migration issue in stark terms: More dams mean Less fish.
Idaho Governor Brad Little's Salmon Work Group held their fourth meeting in Twin Falls over October 29th and 30th. The Work Group, which consists of a diverse array of stakeholders, has crisscrossed the state attempting to hash out policy recommendations for the Governor that will lead to meaningful salmon and steelhead recovery in Idaho.
As the meetings have gone by, the group's information-gathering focus has centered more and more on the effect of the network of dams along the Snake-Columbia River. The dams have split the river into a tiered line of reservoirs (or "hydrosystem") with little resemblance to a free-flowing river.
In the Lewiston meeting in September, Nez Perce Fisheries' presentation drove home the point that pristine salmon spawning and rearing habitat exists throughout the vast central Idaho wilderness - but the fish are not coming back to fill it. In Twin Falls, presentations from a variety of government and Tribal agency scientists put the river migration issue in stark terms: more dams mean less fish.
Presentations on salmon and steelhead survival comparisons across different Columbia Basin populations, using Smolt-to-Adult Returns (SAR's) as a measurement, demonstrated a clear picture of the problem. Snake River populations must pass through eight dams. Fish that pass through less dams than Snake River stocks, such as those on the Yakima River (4 dams) or the John Day River (3 dams), have much higher SAR's and are in a better condition as a result, as reported by Dr. Steve Haeseker of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dr. Bob Lessard, of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, reported on his group's model of Snake River Chinook populations under scenarios where more water was spilled over the dams and the four dams on the lower Snake River were breached. The results were a four-fold increase in Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook, along with a two to three times increase in SAR rates.
Beyond hydrosystem information, the Twin Falls meeting included information from the Columbia Basin Partnership (CBP). The CBP, convened by NOAA fisheries, is a collaboration of diverse interest groups working towards a shared vision for salmon and steelhead recovery. In a report released earlier this year, the CBP created a set of common goals, which envisioned "healthy and harvestable" levels of salmon and steelhead that are meaningful for social, cultural, economic, and ecological reasons. Importantly, these goals went beyond Endangered Species Act recovery thresholds and envisioned abundant, well-dispersed numbers of salmon and steelhead across the region.
The Salmon Work Group now has an opportunity to take the next step and provide the Governor with informed, scientifically-backed recovery recommendations. This would allow Idaho to become a leading voice in changing the status quo on regional salmon and steelhead recovery. With the scene now set, the time has come for those in the Salmon Work Group to begin conversations on endorsing increased spill and dam breaching as recovery actions.
Idaho's river communities, Tribes, sportsmen, and passionate citizens cannot afford to wait any longer, brisk action must be discussed and endorsed now. Having conversations about keeping all Salmon Work Group stakeholders economically and socially whole in the event of dam breaching would be a fruitful and necessary step in what, up to this point, has been a valuable round table for Idaho.
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