Free the Snake 2nd Annual Flotilla Planned for Sept. 17 in Lewiston/Clarkston area
You may remember that last year I had hoped there wouldn't be a need for an annual event to raise awareness about the dwindling stocks of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin. I had written that I hoped we only needed to do this Free the Snake flotilla once. It is true that 86.4 percent of fisheries biologists in the western U.S. and Canada say that "if society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams.” That is the equivalent of 3,024 scientists who equate lower Snake dam breaching with Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon recovery to sustainable and fishable levels. That means that there are about 476 scientists in the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society who believe there is some other pathway to sustainable and fishable recovery for those wild salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon. A super majority agree with me and those who have won five lawsuits against the various federal plans to restore Snake River salmonids. A super majority is any vote where 67-90 percent are in favor of one alternative than another. There is another side and wouldn't it be great if we could have a seaport at Lewiston, Idaho and have sustainable and fishable populations of wild salmon, wild steelhead, wild Pacific lamprey and wild white sturgeon? That's the cake and eat it too argument and it would be fantastic, but evidence thus far suggests this isn't possible.
Our side, the side for wild salmon and biodiversity and people in the Pacific Northwest, won its fifth lawsuit in federal court against the action agencies and NOAA's federal recovery or BiOp plans to restore threatened and endangered wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake basins. The judge ordered the various agencies who are currently presiding over the extinction of wild salmonids in the Snake River Basin to go through the NEPA process and use the Endangered Species Act in coming up with its next plan to restore wild salmonids and that this plan should consider breaching one or more of the four lower Snake River dams.
All of that is relatively good news, but we've still got four lower Snake River dams killing juvenile salmon and steelhead on their way out to sea and killing adult salmon and steelhead on their way back to their natal streams. Adults are dying in the hot water in those reservoirs, last year we lost more than 90 percent of the entire Columbia/Snake rivers sockeye run due to lethally hot water. The juveniles, well they used to ride freshets to the sea, and when they did that before the dams, the first real slack water they would hit would be the estuary at the mouth of the Columbia River. Since 1938, juvenile salmon and steelhead upstream of Bonneville Dam have been dealing with slackwater nowhere near the Pacific Ocean. For the past 41 years, the real killing field for juvenile salmon coming out of Idaho's, some of Eastern Washington and Oregon's streams has been occurring in the Lewiston/Clarkston area. When those juvenile salmon go to sea, the ride the current backward. When they hit the slackwater between Asotin, Wash., and Clarkston, Wash., and Lewiston, Idaho on the Snake River they are confused and there they are met by predators, some native like northern pikeminnow who have enjoyed the creation of reservoirs, and some nonnative predators put in the Snake River by state fish and game agencies hoping to improve fishing for anglers by adding smallmouth bass and walleye (great fish to catch and in the walleye's case the best freshwater fish to eat in my opinion), but these additional predators feast on these juvenile salmon and steelhead as they hit the slackwater of the Lower Granite Reservoir. Juvenile Salmon and steelhead also hit the slackwater on the Clearwater River around the paper mill in Lewiston.
This year's flotilla will be paddling over the ghosts of literally hundreds of millions of wild juvenile salmon and steelhead that failed to adapt to our changing of their migration corridor. We altered their habitat to industrialize the rivers and in doing so we made a choice, whether conscience of it at the time or not, that we were choosing industry over salmon. But we were sold a lemon and mankind to this day fails to recognize the value of biodiversity, riverine habitat, ecosystems, nature itself. We lie to ourselves about economy and what is better economical when we never have factored in the true value of all of those things we decide to destroy and replace with our destructive engineering. And nowhere is that more evident than it is on the lower Snake River and this flotilla, Sept. 17, will take you over hallowed water, haunted water. This is a place of great loss. Should we ever live to see the day when the Snake River is freed from its concrete confines, we will see the watersheds connected to this place experience a great rebirth, but until then our watersheds, ecosystems and biodiversity continue to decline, continue to die. Remember where you are paddling when you come to the flotilla on that Saturday in September. That water is hallowed, that water is haunted by the ghosts of wild salmon and steelhead who cannot speak for themselves, so you must. Get your kayak, your canoe, your raft, your boat, your stand-up paddle board and join the flotilla Sept. 17. It is past time to Free the Snake. Remember to register here. This is a peaceful protest and an effort to bring attention to the plight of wild salmonids in the Snake River Basin. It was heartening to witness the flotilla last year and I suspect that it will have a restorative value to those who value the environment and who are conservation-minded should they participate and I hope you do. It is a good cause, perhaps a lost cause, but as Jimmy Stewart's character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was always fond of reminding others what his father said that those lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for and we fight for wild salmonids by shedding light on their plight in a way that shows we desire there to be some real, positive change through legal means for wild salmonids, their watersheds and the people and flora and fauna who rely upon them.
Five victories in court, five illegal federal recovery plans thrown out; no closer to real wild Snake River salmon and steelhead recovery
May 4, 2016-This ruling comes as no surprise to me, nor any reader of this blog. I told you the outcome when the case was filed. No matter that a new judge was on the case, the law is clear, the facts haven't changed in favor of dams and wild salmon being compatible. And when the law is clear, and the facts still support the continued failed recovery of wild salmon, the outcome would only be in doubt if the judge was derelict in his duty. And that's typically not going to be the case.
So, why the somber headline? It is the fifth time we've dragged NOAA and the "inaction agencies" into court and it's the fifth time we've beaten them. And wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River are no nearer recovery today than they were yesterday or 20 years ago or 25 years ago. The judge gave the action agencies another two years to produce what will likely be another illegal biop and wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin will be two years closer to extinction.
Do you want a legal biop? Breach four dams on the lower Snake River and voila, you've got a legal BiOp. I firmly believe that and 85 percent of the fisheries biologists in Pacific Northwest have a very similar opinion. But that 15 cents those dams earn over and above the billions we put into them will keep the action agencies from breaching. That and the incredible industry that is ratepayer and taxpayer dollars that now fund all walks of life in the Pacific Northwest on band-aid habitat projects that are continually viewed by every judge to not be enough.
Don't let this fifth victory in court be as hollow as the last four. Stop being the King of Ephyra, Sisyphus, stop rolling the boulder to the top only to watch it roll back down again and again and again and again and...
There is only one way for the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River Basin to recover and that is by breaching those four lower Snake River dams. I understand some of you are against breaching those dams, and you have a legitimate argument provided you acknowledge the fact that as long as those dams are in place the extinction of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin, or should you choose the extirpation of them, is inevitable. We cannot have wild salmon and steelhead in perpetuity with those dams. If you know that and still argue to keep the dams, hey, we disagree, but at least you hold a legitimate position.
By the way, NOAA and the action agencies don't hold that legitimate position. They believe we can have wild salmon and steelhead and the dams, and they are wrong. Completely and utterly so. They hold an illegitimate position, a position that has now been struck down five times in federal court, and now by a brand new judge.
So, unless you are like so many other Americans ready to believe a conspiracy exists anywhere your ideology has the unpleasant meeting with reality, perhaps you understand why I'm not really celebrating this victory. I knew it was coming from the day it was filed. I also knew that the judge would give the action agencies more time and I also know that they are going to do what they've done in the past and that is change a couple of commas and add more habitat projects where they buy off more and more constituents and publish yet another illegal BiOp that will again be challenged in court and it will again be declared illegal and we'll be that much closer to extinction, extirpation of wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin.
Salmon advocates pan Walla Walla Corps Commander remarks about Lower Snake River dam benefits
For endangered and threatened wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River Basin to be removed from the Endangered Species List we need to have smolt to adult return rates (SARs) of 2-6 percent for eight consecutive years.
To avoid extinction of wild Snake River salmon and steelhead, a smolt-to-adult return rate (SAR) of 1 percent would need to be achieved. SARs in the 2-6 percent range for eight consecutive years would constitute recovery of endangered wild salmon and steelhead. Over the past 18 years, the average SAR for wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin is 0.59 percent. Wild Spring/Summer Chinook SARs have exceeded 2 percent only twice since 1994 in 1999 (2.39 percent) and 2008 (2.74 percent). In 12 years between 1994-2012, wild spring/summer chinook SARs have not reached 1 percent, the level necessary to avoid extinction.
Humans release 5-6 billion hatchery salmon and steelhead into the northern Pacific Ocean each year.
10-16 million wild salmon and steelhead used to return to the Columbia/Snake river basins, now (2002-2011 average) we see about 1.3 million hatchery fish and about 320,000 wild fish return each year.
Wild salmon and steelhead only makeup at best 20 percent of the annual returns in the Columbia/Snake river basins.
All but one (Ice Harbor Dam) lower Snake River dams were not operational before 1969.
Snake River spring/summer chinook smolt to adult return rate (SAR) was 4.3 percent from 1964-1969.
Only wild fish matter when it comes to removal from the Endangered Species List.
The dams now generate less than 3 percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest . The region has a 16 percent energy surplus and would still have about a 13 percent energy surplus without the four lower Snake River dams.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers labels the lower Snake River as a waterway of "negligible use." Container shipping on the lower Snake was suspended in the spring of 2015. Shipping on the Lower Snake is down 60 percent since 2000.
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Actual in-river survival for juvenile salmon and steelhead
The Fish Passage Center has the actual juvenile survival numbers through the hydrosystem. The Corps of Engineers has said juvenile salmonid survival is 95 percent, the following numbers from the Fish Passage Center when compared to the Corps stated survival percentage do not match up. Why?
Juvenile Salmon/Steelhead In-River Survival Lower Granite Dam to Bonneville Dam
(source Fish Passage Center)
Wild Chinook Wild Steelhead
1994 20 percent
1995 41 percent
1996 44 percent
1997 51 percent 1997 52 percent
1998 61 percent 1998 54 percent
1999 59 percent 1999 45 percent
2000 48 percent 2000 30 percent
2001 23 percent 2001 4 percent
2002 61 percent 2002 52 percent
2003 60 percent 2003 37 percent
2004 40 percent 2004 18 percent
2005 48 percent 2005 25 percent
2006 57 percent 2006 58 percent
2007 60 percent 2007 38 percent
2008 66 percent 2008 49 percent
2009 56 percent 2009 70 percent
2010 60 percent 2010 60 percent
2011 60 percent 2011 76 percent
2012 57 percent 2012 59 percent
2013 55 percent 2013 56 percent
About the Salmon Blog Author
Michael Wells is an award winning journalist and photographer living in Idaho. He moved out west to insert himself in the salmon narrative, yeah, well the scenery is prettier than back east, too. He never had designs on writing about salmon for the rest of his life, so breach some dams already so he can get on with his life. He is a member of Trout Unlimited, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Watch. This blog also shares information from Friends of the Clearwater, Save Our Wild Salmon and the Western Watersheds Project when the work they are doing coincides with the overall goal of this blog (which is pretty much all the time), which is to simply have mankind get out of the way enough for wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River Basin to recover to the point of such an abundance that we no longer revere them. He can be reached at salmonblog AT yahoo DOT com.
Snake River Links
Visit our sister site www.snakeriversalmon.com for another blog and information on Snake River Salmon.
Visit Snake River Resurrection a coalition of diverse interests—anglers, recreationists, engineers, families, businesses and economists—advocating for fact-based, economically-sensible use of the lower Snake River. They are a force for truth and a catalyst for change, and they hold local, state and federal government agencies accountable for serving the public interest and protecting the public purse. They support revitalizing local economies, sustaining natural resources, preventing extinction of iconic Northwest species, and returning the lower Snake River to its rightful owners: the American people.
Visit Snake River Salmon Solutions where retired fisheries biologist Bert Bowler is giving Snake River salmon and steelhead a voice.
Visit Idaho Rivers United whose mission is to protect and restore the rivers of Idaho.
Visit the Idaho Conservation League who works to protect Idaho's environment
Visit Trout Unlimited an organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America's coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
Visit The Sierra Club America's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.
Visit The Friends of the Clearwater site where the friends defends the Idaho Clearwater Bioregion's wildlands and biodiversity through a forest watch program, litigation, grassroots public involvement, outreach, and education on the eastern edge of the Palouse, where the doug fir and cedar forests meet the rolling hills.
Visit Save Our Wild Salmon a nationwide coalition of conservation organizations, commercial and sportsfishing associations, businesses, river groups, and taxpayer advocates working collectively to restore self-sustaining, abundant, and harvestable populations of wild salmon and steelhead to rivers, streams and oceans of the Pacific Salmon states.
Visit Wilderness Watch is the only national organization whose sole focus is the preservation and proper stewardship of lands and rivers included in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and National Wild & Scenic Rivers System (NWSRS).
Visit the Snake River Salmon Society, Supporting political leadership to restore wild salmon, steelhead, and native fish to the Snake River Basin, for the benefit of all in the Northwest.
Visit the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that strikes a balance between energy and the environment in the Columbia River Basin.
Visit the Fish Passage site for daily fish counts at dams
Visit the American Rivers site an organization dedicated to protecting our rivers and clean water
Visit the Native Fish Society who advocate for the conservation, protection and restoration of native fish populations in the Pacific Northwest.
Snake River Sockeye Salmon Returns by the numbers
Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook Returns by the numbers
Snake River Steelhead Returns by the numbers
Snake River Fall Chinook Returns by the numbers
It now takes 10 years to get back the same number of fish that used to return to the Columbia/Snake River Basin. And today, 75-80 percent or more of the returning fish are hatchery fish. Wild salmon and steelhead are endangered and threatened and only their recovery matters if they are to be removed from the Endangered Species List.