Of course, last year's second highest number since the construction of Lower Granite Dam in 1975 only represented 4.29 percent of the historical run estimate. The 2010 count of 2,201, the highest since Lower Granite Dam was built, was only 6.28 percent of historical runs. This year's run is the lowest since 2007, when a whopping 4 sockeye returned to Redfish Lake and 52 crossed over Lower Granite Dam.
Today is the 20th anniversary of Lonesome Larry's return to Redfish Lake. In 1992, 15 sockeye were counted at Lower Granite Dam and only Lonesome Larry made it all the way back home where he found no one to spawn with. Two years before Larry returned, no sockeye were counted at the dam, nor at the lake. A year before Larry saw 8 at the dam and 4 at the lake. 1990 wasn't the only year there were no returning sockeye, none returned in 1995 or 1997 when 3 and 11, respectively, crossed Lower Granite Dam. There wasn't a Redfish Lake count in 1989, but with only 2 sockeye counted at the dam that year it is likely none made it back that year either.
Everyone always likes to shorten the story to say only 16 sockeye returned between 1991-1998, but that is a disservice to the plight of the extremely endangered sockeye of Redfish Lake that today are only present due to a captive broodstock program and a lot of human intervention. The longer story shows that in 1990, no fish returned. In 1991, three males and one female returned. In 1992, only the famous Lonesome Larry returned. In 1993, six males and two females returned. In 1994, one female returned. In 1995, no sockeye returned. In 1996, one female returned. In 1997, no sockeye returned. In 1998, one male returned. In 1999, no wild or natural origin fish returned, but six male and one female hatchery fish returned. In 2000, again no wild or natural origin fish returned, but 157 male and 85 female hatchery sockeye returned.
In 2001, there were 26 sockeye that returned of 36 counted at the dam. In 2002, 22 sockeye returned out of 55 counted at the dam. In 2003, three sockeye returned out of 11 counted at the dam. In 2004, 27 sockeye returned to the lake out of 113 counted at Lower Granite. In 2005, six sockeye returned out of 18 counted at the dam. In 2006, 4 sockeye returned out of 17 at the dam. In 2007, four fish returned out of 52 at the dam. And then the sockeye story started looking hopeful, it still paled in comparison to historical runs before the dams, but 636 sockeye returned out of 909 counted at the dam and then in 2009 833 returned out of 1,219 at the dam. Then the record number since the construction of Lower Granite Dam with 1,316 returning, 178 of natural origin, out of 2,201 counted at the dam. Last year, 1,100 returned and of those 150 were of natural origin out of 1,502 counted at the dam. This year, the returns to the lake are not complete and were single digits as of Wednesday, but 430 had crossed the dam as of Thursday.
What does all of this mean? It should remind us that these comparatively high return numbers can crash in any given year. It should remind us that funding may one day go away due to a determination of the program as unsuccessful in light of deficits, debt and an economy that sputters along. It should ultimately remind us, though, that we never learned the real lesson Lonesome Larry was trying to tell us when he was the only fish to return. It should tell us that 1990, likely 1989, 1995 and 1997 aren't anomalies, but a very real future should we continue to drag our feet on removing the four lower Snake River dams.
Last year, almost a year ago exactly, but a couple of days have passed since the anniversary Judge James Redden ruled that the latest federal plan (Biop, to use the vernacular) was illegal and he directed the federal agencies currently presiding over the extinction of wild salmon and wild steelhead in the Snake River Basin that among other things such as spill and flow and providing better science for the Biop's jeopardy standard that these federal agencies should provide an analysis of lower Snake River dam removal. A year has passed and they haven't followed his order, they've largely ignored it and they have Rep. Doc Hastings, R-WA, proposing a bill in Congress Aug. 1 of this year that is the anti-thesis of Redden's last order in the salmon case before he retired and later said they should breach those dams.
Calls for a solutions table have gone unheeded and federal agencies are dragging their feet on Redden's order, probably thinking with a change of judges in the case and now in light of the Hastings' anti-wild salmon bill (he calls it "Saving Our Dams") that the tide will change and they won't have to do it. Hastings' bill actually says no federal money will be expended on even an analysis of dam removal without the express direction of Congress.
This current House of Representatives, of which Hastings is a member, is blatantly anti-Endangered Species Act and are moving ahead on several fronts to weaken or even do away with a member of the trinity of the most important enviromental laws that will help us preserve and restore our natural heritage and will lead us all to a better future. The trinity being the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. I guess I could throw in the Wilderness Act, which is another crucially important law this current House is assaulting on every front on a daily basis.
There's also this side argument over establishing a more firm Congressional order on spill, rather than relying on perpetual litigation and subsequent judicial orders and that, while important, detracts from the only possible solution to saving our wild salmon and wild steelhead of the Snake River Basin and that solution is the breaching of those four dams (Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite).
You've got all of these things going on and the coal industry is trying to secure the extinction of wild salmon and wild steelhead with their efforts to have various ports improved, built in the Pacific Northwest so they can export their dirty product over to India and China where yellow skies apparently don't yet matter. Clean coal, the oxymoron of the 21st Century.
You've got Idaho Gov. Butch Otter running overseas making deals with manufacturers of gigantic equipment needed at the Canadian Tar Sands so they can make Mr. Peabody's Coal Company look like some kid in a sand box with a Tonka toy. He's out there trying to make the "seaport" at Lewiston relevant (notice I said relevant, not relevant again) all the while the various grains are being shipped via truck and rail due to a better seaport in Tacoma than in Portland regardless of the longshoreman fight in Portland that has snarled barging in Lewiston. Barging has dropped some 50 percent since the early 1990s from the port at Lewiston.
Meanwhile, Idaho Power spends two years trashing wind power in what it says is an attempt to get some changes to federal law that they say wind power producers are taking advantage of to gouge Idaho Power. You've got the Bonneville Power Administration forcing the shutdown of wind turbines in the Pacific Northwest in favor or hydroelectric power generated at the dams as late as last year. The BPA spends $650 million last year in salmon mitigation, which is more than it cost to build Lower Granite Dam and they have spent somewhere in the vicinity of $16 billion in salmon mitigation since Lower Granite Dam was built. More than 85 percent of fisheries biologists in the Pacific Northwest voted again last year that the only sure way to ensure the survival and recovery of endangered stocks of anadromous fish (which include wild Chinook, wild sockeye, wild steelhead) is to breach the four lower Snake River dams.
The federal agencies have been told, not once, not twice, not three times, but four times that their plan is illegal and falls short of the Endangered Species Act and there is no overwhelmingly loud drum beat for dam removal on the lower Snake even though we've gotten rid of several dams in Maine and most recently gotten rid of Condit, Elwha and Glines Canyon dams in the Pacific Northwest. Hastings' bill also says no federal money can be spent on the breaching, partial removal or removal of any hydroelectric producing dam, public or private without Congressional direction.
All of this is happening and still today, on Lonesome Larry's 20th anniversary, the media still follows the lead of the BPA PR machine, still writes about the minutia that is salmon recovery (sea lion depredation, moving bird colonies, paying bounties for pikeminnow, barging smolts, etc.) by agencies more interested in their salmon killing components than this country's natural heritage and a media that almost never makes the point to point out that these runs of returning fish are mostly hatchery fish and even those numbers are a paltry 10 percent of what used to come back to us without our interference in every stage of their lifecycle.
In light of the lack of critical mass to move the debate to not if but when on dam breaching on the lower Snake, it is easy to see why the average citizen is befuddled by all the salmon advocate victories in court. They need not be befuddled, it is simple, these federal agencies are breaking the law over and over again and there are powerful members in Congress who won't do a thing to make them follow legal orders or the law.
America is only great when it is a nation of laws, a nation that follows its laws, and how can we be great when agencies within the very federal government will not follow the law as directed to them by a federal judge over and over and over and over again?
Will all the work that was done at a minute after midnight in regards to Redfish Lake sockeye ultimately be in vain? Will the media even report the story when we lose our wild Chinook and wild steelhead if there are 1 million to 1.5 million hatchery fish returning to the Columbia/Snake basins? Will you, the average citizen, even care when that happens? And it will happen if we don't breach those dams.
We can make electricity in many, many different ways and in many ways that are more environmentally friendly than inundating a valley behind a concrete wall that subsequently imperils all the fish that travel to and from that former valley. We can transport in more ways than by barge and are actually doing that. People will recreate on a free flowing river as much, actually more, than they do on those reservoirs in eastern Washington. Irrigation is a non-issue, free flowing rivers have water, too, you just need more pipe.
You can be a part of the generation that saved the wild salmon and wild steelhead of the Snake River Basin, the descendants of the multitude of fish that the Corps of Discovery was awed by and also fed by when they almost starved to death crossing over the Continental Divide in 1805. Or you can be a part of the generation that watched as the wild salmon and wild steelhead of the Snake River Basin went extinct, but you can say you saved some concrete. Do you secure food for the species or for your machines? I say you can do both by expanding your energy portfolio by breaching four dams, only four dams, and producing the small amount of electricity those dams actually produce by alternate means.
There is hope for the future, but this current House of Representatives made up of Doc Hastings and others don't want you to have hope, they want you dependent upon the dinosaurs of energy and the infrastructure and logistics those dinosaurs greedily force you to subsidize for them. They choose the dinosaurs over you and your natural heritage because the dinosaurs line their pockets with cash. They only see a world where mankind takes and takes and takes like a plague of locusts. Salmon advocates in the Pacific Northwest offer you a better world, a world where everything in your house turns on when you want it to, goods are transported to market without the trade off of hundreds of millions of dead fish, recreation is abound, crops are irrigated and wild salmon and wild steelhead recover on their own without billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars being wasted year after year by federal agencies with no intention of saving those fish. Do you want a better world? There it is, have the guts to demand it.