The Snake River Basin wild salmonids need us to act to remove obstacles (four lower Snake River dams) so they can recover from the brink of extinction
1. Before development of the Columbia/Snake River Basin, the annual salmon and steelhead runs on the Columbia and Snake Rivers were estimated to be 10-16 million wild fish. That's the number the Northwest Council adopted in 1987 that was arrived at by using lower river commercial catch records. The council also did an alternative method of lower river commercial catch plus upriver Indian and settler catch and came up with 12.5 to 13 million adult fish returning each year. Historically, about half of those wild salmonids were destined for the Snake River.
2. Today, the average Columbia/Snake River total run of salmon and steelhead (hatchery and wild fish) is about 10 percent of the historical high average and today’s runs are made up of roughly 80 percent hatchery fish and 20 percent wild fish. So about an average of 320,000 wild salmonids return to the Columbia/Snake Basin each year. That is about 2 percent of the historical run of 16 million fish and about 3.2 percent of the low historical run estimate of 10 million wild salmonids.
3. 10-year averages for total salmon/steelhead run through Lower Granite Dam. Chinook salmon total 2007-2016 consisted of 1,533,719 Chinook (adult and jack, all races Sp/Su/Fa) for an average of 153,372 chinook through Lower Granite Dam each year. Coho salmon (went extinct in the Snake River in 1986, Nez Perce Tribe used coho eggs from coastal streams to bring coho salmon back to the Snake River Basin) total 2007-2016 consisted of 48,331 coho salmon for an annual average of 4,833 coho salmon. There were 1,670,453 hatchery steelhead cross over Lower Granite Dam from 2007-2016 for an annual average of 167,045. For comparison, there have been 8,360 total hatchery steelhead cross over Lower Granite Dam in 2017, but the number is misleading because about 5,500 of those fish were from last year’s run that overwintered below Lower Granite Dam. Either way, the steelhead run this year is historically low. There were 442,716 wild steelhead pass over Lower Granite Dam from 2007-2016 for an annual average of 44,271 wild steelhead. This year 3,657 wild steelhead have passed over Lower Granite Dam, but about 2,200 of those fish were from last year’s run. Either way, this year’s wild steelhead run in the Snake River should serve as a powerful reminder that we are not doing enough to save wild salmonids in the Snake River Basin. There have been 11,152 sockeye salmon pass over the Lower Granite Dam from 2007-2016 for an annual average of 1,115 sockeye. Sockeye remain the most endangered salmonid in the Snake River Basin.
4. 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. SARs for hatchery fish do not matter in the quest to recover wild salmonids and one day remove them from the Endangered Species List.
5. 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. From 1994-1999 the SARs for Snake River salmonids was 1 percent, since 2000 it is 1.1 percent, far below the minimum 2 percent in the target 2-6 percent SAR required for eight consecutive years to constitute recovery. Wild spring/summer chinook met the 2 percent minimum in 1999 and 2008. From 2006-2015 the wild spring/summer chinook SAR in the Snake River Basin is 0.88 percent. That SAR is below the 1 percent minimum threshold for survival. From 1964-1969, wild steelhead in the Snake River Basin enjoyed a 7.2 percent SAR. From 1990-1999 wild steelhead SAR was 1.9 percent. From 2000-2014, wild steelhead had a 2.5 percent SAR, though never achieving recovery from the threatened status on the Endangered Species List. This year’s run is surely going to record a dismal smolt-to-adult return rate for wild steelhead in the Snake River Basin.
6. Humans release 5-6 billion hatchery salmon and steelhead into the northern Pacific Ocean each year.
7. Is 10 percent of what we used to get back for free worth $1 billion a year in perpetuity? Does 2 percent wild fish runs of historical runs constitute record runs in your estimation? If not, contact your congressional delegation and tell them to vote no on HR 3144.
8. Only wild fish matter when it comes to removal from the Endangered Species List. The dams now generate less than 4 percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest . The region has a 13 percent energy surplus and would still have about a 9 percent energy surplus without the four lower Snake River dams. A few years ago, 86 percent of the fisheries biologists in the western United States said that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the single best action mankind can take to allow these wild salmonids to recover.
9. 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.
10. I like to end on a positive note. We can be the generation that saved wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin. We must inform our leaders that we can live without these deadbeat dams on the Lower Snake River and we will prosper after breaching these dams. I truly believe we borrow this world from our children, and when you borrow something you should return it to the owner in as good or better shape than it was in when you borrowed it. Here is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the world a better place for our children and grandchildren. The Salmon Blog is working toward a future where the abundance of wild salmon challenges our notions to revere them. Please join me in freeing the Snake River and allowing wild salmonids to recover throughout the accessible Snake River Basin!
I want to tell you a story. I am going to tell you this story from the top of my head and I won't be using google to look anything up. I have been told on numerous occasions that I am a descendant of Capt. William Clark. I have never verified this, it's just something I was told by my father when he was alive on more than a few occasions. I always thought that was a cool thing but I never went about verifying it. I am from Kentucky and so was William Clark. And just about everyone from Kentucky is related. I mean, there are jokes about that...several of them. But I digress.
It is the 3rd Annual Free the Snake Flotilla Eve, and the stockings are...sorry, I'll get to it. When Uncle Clark passed through this region, and I now live in Lewiston. When Uncle William Clark came through this region there are several entries in Uncle Clark's journal that spoke of salmon and salmon-trout. He and Merriwether Lewis and the Corps of Discovery bore witness to what the Northwest Council in 1987 estimated to be wild salmonid runs of 10-16 million fish each year in the Columbia/Snake, with about half of those fish taking a right turn and swimming up the Snake River headed to natal streams in eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada. How spectacular that must have been. Oh, to have witnessed that. What a joy, what a wonder! Apparently, my DNA did! I like to take a molecular view of things. I like to remind people that anything they eat or drink with calories is just part of the Big Bang due to the law of energy conservation that states energy cannot be created or destroyed. It all came from the Big Bang, so whether you are a carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian or vegan you're just eating the Big Bang and the only choice you are making is the degree of separation from that Big Bang. I get it, some of you want to be closer. Well, some of my DNA witnessed these fantastic wild salmonid runs of the Columbia/Snake and that is just cool. I moved out here to insert myself into the salmon narrative, it's plausible this came to me at a very molecular level. It was in my DNA, you might say. That's cool, I can't prove it, but it's cool to ponder.
After Uncle Clark paddled and portaged his way through, more people of European descent came to the region and began to develop it. First and ironically, we depleted the supply of beavers in the region and that was the first adverse effect that we had on salmon. Very few beavers soon led to less rearing habitat as beaver dams, of all things, actually aided salmon rearing giving salmon fry safer waters to grow. Then we came into the region in search of gold. That gold lust would soon make the promises my Uncle Clark made ring hollow as we encroached upon the Nimiipuu or as we called them the Nez Perce's land. With our lust for gold came our placer mines where we would blast away the banks of these streams that were choked with salmon, at least for a little while more. We left our piles of tailings that soon attracted Chinese immigrants who worked over those tailings finding plenty of gold dust to make it worthwhile.
Our mining camps were surrounded by forests and our mining camps needed lumber, as did our towns and our homesteads and our railroads. Soon we began to cut down every tree in sight and choke the rivers with logs rather than salmon. It was during this period that I like to joke that the number one killer of salmon and steelhead was blunt force trauma. In pretty short order the fish runs were diminished. Canneries that for a few years in interior places like near Payette Lake in Idaho would go out of business as the sockeye salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead runs would start to crash there and other places.
Fish run crashes were happening all over, but we had also learned how to propagate fish and hatcheries began to be built throughout the Pacific Northwest. We erroneously thought we could create a panacea of salmon by creating fish hatcheries throughout the region. Of course, we were wrong, and our unabashed lust for the raw materials of the region, coupled with our unrestricted harvest practices when it came to this literal manna from the heavens in the form of swarms of fish in our rivers led to great crashes in the fish runs.
And as if we wanted to add insult to injury to these once magnificent runs of wild fish, we started to build dams with reckless abandon in the Pacific Northwest. At first, the dams were small, but stopped anadramous fish migrations wherever they were built. Then came the public dams, larger dams, reclamation with no thought whatsoever to the fish we had cutoff from their natal streams, from their life cycle. Stories abound from newspaper accounts of salmon leaping hopelessly, over and over again into concrete walls, only to later die, completely spent at the bottom of some dam erected without a single thought for the migratory nature of these oh so important fish. Later, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would tell us that salmon are a keystone species and that 137 different species rely on salmon for their survival. The WDFW forgot about us, indeed 138 species rely on salmon for survival, we humans have relied on salmon for tens of thousands of years.
Next came our beginning attempts at regulating harvest and later came our demands for fish passage at newly proposed dams. However, those demands came too late to stop Grand Coulee Dam from cutting off all of the upper Columbia River. Canada sends its regards, thanks America. Gone were the June hogs, immense chinook salmon that spawned above the Grand Coulee Dam, later replaced by a laser light show on the concrete face of our salmon genus-cide.
American dam builders finally caught up to the demands of the public as salmon stocks continued to dwindle in the face of an onslaught to every facet of their life cycle. We started adding fish ladders for the adult salmon to get over the dams and return to their natal streams. We kept on building dams thinking we had solved the problem with the addition of fish ladders, but we had only provided an avenue for return for the adults. We had yet to contemplate how these concrete wonders were killing off the salmon and steelhead smolts. In fact, we have yet to realize just how much our dams and our embracing of invasive species and our alterations of the migratory habitat have on salmonid smolts going to the ocean.
The inaction agencies, as I like to call them (US Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and the marketers at Bonneville Power Administration) have yet to embrace the true harm of their dams and that is how you get five federal Biops declared illegal by federal judges over more than 20 years. They will tell you fantastic stories of plus 95 percent survival of salmon and steelhead smolts at their dams. What they exclude, conveniently I might add, is the fact that those numbers, those very misleading and false numbers are simply survival rates from one side of the concrete at a dam to the other side of the concrete. You and I know that the dams start killing salmon and steelhead smolts, both wild and hatchery when the current in the rivers begin to slack behind those dams. The real killing fields are near Asotin, Washingotn and Lewiston, Idaho on the Snake and Clearwater rivers. There the slackwater confuses the smolts who ride the freshets backwards to sea. They hit slackwater here in the Lewiston/Clarkston area and are picked off by predators. Predators like the native northern pikeminnow, which thrived in the slackwater reservoirs. Predators like the invasive smallmouth bass and walleye that our fish and game agencies threw in our waters to "improve" our fishing experience. Predators like cormorants and other fish eating birds that find confused fish as easily as Americans find an all you can eat buffet. Beyond the confusion of slackwater and a host of predators honed to kill smolts, our wild salmonid smolts are competing with 143 million hatchery smolts that we dump into our Columbia/Snake rivers each year. They are dealing with low flows and warm waters. Some are being picked up by the Corps of Engineers and given a cruise from below Lower Granite Dam to below Bonneville Dam. This barging increases straying, a phenomenon where salmon cannot find their natal streams.
Because we know we royally screwed up the greatest wild salmonid run in the world, we doubled down on the hatcheries in our futile efforts to mitigate for our dams. We sent fish culturists and some people who had no formal training to the dams and there they picked brood stock for their hatchery operations. Science was not used in this process. Essentially, when a fish large enough to make the selector utter an expletive, that fish was chosen to start a hatchery operation. The problem, of course with this approach circa late 1970s-early 1980s, salmon and steelhead have evolved over eons to be appropriately adapted to their natal streams, their migratory habitat, the Columbia estuary, and the northeastern Pacific Ocean. And we were just picking fish that made us say "DAMN!" and "Holy Shit that'a a big fish!" to create our hatcheries. Now we dump 5 billion hatchery fish into the northern Pacific Ocean through the conduits of connected streams from Russia, Korea, Japan, Canada and the United States. Obviously, adding 5 billion fish into the diminishing equation is going to have great obstacles for our wild salmonids to overcome.
Yet, they persist. And thank God, or the Big Bang or your second cousin twice removed for that. They are still here, though spring chinook and especially steelhead added haunting harmony to dirge the sockeye of the Snake have been playing since the early 1990s.
How do we fix this problem, we created? A few years ago, not that many actually, fisheries biologists throughout the west were asked what was the one thing we could do that would give wild salmonids of the Snake River Basin their best shot at recovery and 86 percent of them said breaching the four lower Snake River dams. Recognizing that people now win the election for president by losing by 3 million votes, I still think even an antiquated Electoral College would elect in a landslide breaching the dams with that kind of response from people who are paid to know these things.
I firmly believe in self-determination. We can do this. We can be the generation that saved the wild salmonids of the Snake River Basin. We can be the change we want to see in the world. We can free the Snake River and now is the time. We spend about $1 billion a year on dam maintenance and fish and wildlife mitigation for those dams. Those dams have not lived up to their promises of expanding river commerce, recreation, power generation. They have been a great failure.
The only legacy that Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite have had has been the march toward extinction of the greatest run of wild salmonids in the lower 48, nay-North America, nay again, the world. Right now, there are turbine refurbishments in the near future, a contract for two of those 26 turbines cost almost $100 million. Those costs for the remaining turbine refurbishments are only going to increase with your power bills. Those dams, at best, supply less than 4 percent of the power in the Pacific Northwest and now wind power have tripled the output of those dams. This region enjoys a huge power surplus, about 13 percent last time I looked. If we remove those dams, we still have a 9 percent power surplus. Shipping on the Lower Snake River to the supposed sea port at Lewiston, Idaho is down more than 50 percent by any measurement, up to 90 percent depending on where you draw the comparison. We know from economic studies that we are losing $1.4 billion annually in recreation due to the lower Snake River not being a free flowing. Only 13 farmers use the reservoir behind Ice Harbor Dam to irrigate their fields (these are the same people who think Trump should invoke the god squad to vote to allow wild salmonids to go extinct, no one should listen to this tiny group who put themselves before what God or Nature gave to us). We have spent as much as $800 million in single year for fish and wildlife mitigation for these dams and we're not getting anything in return for our money except illegal federal Biops and obstacles to real, true wild salmonid recovery. Irony of ironies, the so-called fiscal conservatives stand stalwart to defend this ongoing federal boondoggle while those spend crazy progressives pose futile arguments of fiscal constraint and long term savings to a deaf, and in power, status quo loving people who never met a fact they couldn't dispel with unfounded and unhinged partisan rhetoric.
I am working toward a future where the abundance of wild salmon in the Snake River Basin is so great that it challenges our notions to revere them. Won't you join me?
Boaters call for dam removal at Third Annual Free the Snake Flotilla
Lewiston, Idaho-Clarkston, Wash. — Hundreds of people from the Northwest and beyond, including tribal members, anglers, business owners, conservationists, outfitters and recreational boaters will launch on Sept. 9 from Chief Timothy Park for a six-mile roundtrip paddle and rally on the river to demand action to save wild salmon.
This action comes just six months after approximately 400,000 people flooded federal agencies with comments calling for the removal of four costly dams on the lower Snake River, an action that scientists say is the single best thing we can do to save wild salmon in the Columbia-Snake Basin.
“Every voice out on the water on Saturday is a crack in the dams. In exchange for millions and millions of acres of land, we were guaranteed one thing: that we could continue our way of life. Wild salmon are at the core of that. They are irreplaceable,” Julian Matthews of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, a volunteer non-profit group made up of members of the Nez Perce tribe advocating for protection of their historic lands and waters, said. “We’re coming together on our home waters in solidarity, with tribal and non-tribal people from across the Northwest, to stand up for our treaty rights, to stand up for our wild salmon and clean water, and to stand up for our health as a united community. We’ve waited too long. It’s time to free the Snake River.”
Snake River wild salmon and steelhead returns have plummeted since the lower Snake River dams were built between 1960 and 1975. This year, Snake River steelhead and salmon populations are returning in some of the lowest numbers seen in years, and in some cases, decades. "We don’t have time to waste. Our fish are sounding the alarm loud and clear this summer. We need to take swift and serious action to ensure our inland communities continue to welcome salmon home to our rivers,” Kevin Lewis, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said. “We have to hold our elected leaders accountable, especially those who are taking great efforts to silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on these iconic fish.”
Earlier this year, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and a minority group of lawmakers introduced HR 3144, legislation they say would “support the Federal Columbia River Power System and the benefits it brings to our region . . . ”
In fact, the bill would do just the opposite: It would thwart efforts to protect endangered wild salmon, hinder development of a more efficient and reliable power system, and risk raising power rates. Advocates on Saturday will direct their action at this bill, urging elected representatives to listen to the voices of the people they represent, reject HR 3144, and put lower Snake River dam removal on the solutions table. “In the decades since the fight to bring salmon back to the Snake River began, a lot has changed: we have abundant wind and solar power to affordably replace electricity from the Snake River dams, barge transportation on the lower Snake River has declined by more than 70 percent, and we have a clear understanding of the potentially catastrophic effects of climate warming on salmon. What hasn’t changed is that our wild salmon and steelhead are on the brink of extinction,” Todd True, lead attorney for fishing groups, river users, clean energy advocates and conservation organizations for Earthjustice, said. “It’s not a question of if, but when we move beyond these deadbeat dams. This flotilla is an effort to rally the region together and embrace this river, our wild salmon, and our Northwest way of life,” Brett Haverstick, education and outreach director with Friends of the Clearwater, said. “We’re coming together to celebrate a growing movement and to take to the water with a clear, powerful message: Free the Snake River,” Sam Mace, Inland Northwest director of Save Our Wild Salmon, said. “We can do this. We can come together as a region, as a community, and chart a new path toward a brighter future that includes robust wild salmon runs, healthy rivers, a thriving economy — and most importantly, keep our communities whole.”
This peaceful, family-friendly two-day event is open to the public, and will open at 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 8 at Chief Timothy Park with tribal drummers and guest speakers. On Saturday, Sept. 9, at 8 a.m., the paddle and rally on the water will launch from the Chief Timothy Park boat launch. Camping Friday and Saturday night will be available at Chief Timothy for participants. For full details and to register, please visit FreeTheSnake.com.
Additional Background: Despite $16 billion U.S. taxpayer and Northwest ratepayer dollars spent on habitat restoration and mitigation efforts, not a single salmon species has recovered. In May 2016, for the fifth time, a federal judge ruled the federal government’s plan to mitigate the harmful effects of the Columbia and Snake River dams on salmon and steelhead illegal. In his ruling, he urged renewed consideration of Lower Snake River dam removal and that the system “cried out for a new approach.” Scientists say the single best thing to save crashing wild salmon and steelhead of the Columbia River Basin is the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Dam removal would honor historic treaty rights of area tribes, return the 140-mile lower Snake River corridor to free-flowing, clearing the path to some of the best salmon habitat left in the lower 48 — and mark the largest river restoration in history.
Sponsors include: Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, Friends of the Clearwater, Save Our Wild Salmon, Earthjustice, Patagonia, Idaho Rivers United, EcoDepot, Mountain Gear, Sierra Club, Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited, Clearwater-Snake Rivers Trout Unlimited, Salmonblog.com, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Snake Riverkeeper, Fighting Goliath, RoastHouse Coffee, American Rivers, The Lands Council, American Whitewater, Idaho River Adventures, OARS, Northwest Steelheaders, Backcountry Lark, R.O.W., Endangered Species Coalition and Greater Hells Canyon Council.
Steelhead numbers incredibly low: since it is catch and release only this year in Idaho, if you go #keepemwet
We can debate till the cows come home whether the Idaho Fish and Game Commission erred when it allowed a catch and release only season for steelhead this year. There are numerous points to be made from a number of different angles. I will not be fishing for steelhead this year, though I have the permit. You need to make your steelhead angling decision for yourself. The steelhead numbers are terrible, about 400 fish in Idaho thus far. What I wanted to point out is that this year's run is critically low and even catch and release angling is going to have a negative impact on those returning fish, so I want to direct you to www.keepemwet.org/ KEEPEMWET FISHING and especially refer you to their tips on how to improve survival of any fish that you catch and release www.keepemwet.org/tips#keepemwet-tips .
I know there will be anglers out there and I really think it is critically important this year not to play these steelhead too long and to keep them in the water while getting your single, barbless hook out. It's an incredibly bad year for steelhead, a bad year for chinook and sockeye haven't been good for literally numerous decades.
I know this is a short entry, but possibly the most important thing I can encourage you to do this year.
Oh and don't forget the Free the Snake event on Sept. 8-9 at Chief Timothy Park west of Clarkston. The flotilla launches in the morning of Sept. 9. It's a great event, even if it is unfortunate that we have to keep having them because thus far common sense, economic sense, and natural justice have not prevailed over the status quo of four deadbeat dams. For more information and to register for this year's Free the Snake click here.
How bankrupt do you have to be to advocate for the extinction of a species? Seriously, what cavern of emptiness pervades your soul that you come to such a conclusion? What compels you to request that the powers that be thwart the public process already in place? How do you have the brazen gall to request the extinction of wild salmonids in the Columbia/Snake River Basin? Your organization of 120 people, who regardless of the presence of the four lower Snake River dams would still get your water with the extension of some pipe, and your solution is to allow the extinction of wild salmon in the Columbia/Snake River Basin?. You've either got to have a pretty empty soul to request that or be woefully misinformed. And that's why I don't take your request for a god squad seriously, even with our most bankrupt vacuum of leadership president in the Oval Office calling the shots. Now, prudence dictates that your end run, hail Mary, request to ears that are receptive to such repulsive things that I should at least be concerned, but then I realize, you represent 120 people and only 13 are in the least bit affected by whether there are four lower Snake River dams (in fact, I could remove three lower Snake dams and you wouldn't have any skin in the game). You draw from one reservoir and the Corps already mitigated for you in the scenario of breaching in 2002, you would just need more pipe to get your water. Why you would ask for the allowance of the extinction of wild salmonids in the lower Snake seems to point to a severe lack of character, but you do have one point, skewed and misguided as it is that I would like to address.
You seem to think that all this mitigation money is far too much for the continuation of the most iconic and keystone species in the Pacific Northwest and your solution is we allow wild salmonids to go extinct. You are correct that we spend far too much on mitigation for the continued operation of the lower four Snake River dams. We've darn near approached $1 billion in a year in that regard and those darn wild salmonids are not responding (regardless of what Rep. McMorris Rodgers says). We've spent some $15-16 billion trying to save these critters and well they just aren't complying. Now we're looking at hundreds of millions in maintenance for these dams that now produce less than 4 percent of the electricity in the PNW, a region that enjoys a 13 percent surplus in power generation. We're gearing up to revamp all those turbines and keep "improving" the fish passage at these dams. But why? Freight shipping on the lower Snake is down more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. That's not a recession, that's a dying market being held together by subsidy. But what about all the grain that is shipped on barges down the lower Snake River? Well, that's down near 50 percent, too. There is a railroad that runs down the entire length of the river, so breaching four dams ain't exactly going to put anyone in dire straights. It is something like $20,000 per barge in subsidy. That's a bit spendy, I kind of see this irrigation group's point, except that they've screwed up the actual way to fix this problem..
Then there are those out there who say we need those dams for the flood control. Well, except that they don't actually provide flood control, I've referred in the past to Bonneville Power Administration documents that point this out, look in the archives or google it, it'll be fun for you. Insult to injury, these non-flood controlling run-of-the-river dams actually increase the flood risk to downtown Lewiston and there's quite the hefty (almost $10 million) dredging bill that comes up every so often. This is due to sediment build up behind Lower Granite Dam. A free flowing lower Snake blows out this sediment so that it isn't a flood threat to downtown Lewiston.
I like to boil these questions down to their essence, I don't mean to demonize those calling for extinction for our wild salmonids, but I do acknowledge that their solution is abhorrent to me and frankly most people living in the region. Most people can see that we can live without four dams in a system that literally has 250 reservoirs, 150 hydroelectric projects and 18 mainstem dams. Seriously, we can, and the four lower Snake River dams that don't provide four percent of our power, don't event provide seven percent of our hydroelectric power. I might add that when they provide the most power is a time when our grid is full of power and we are forced to shutdown our wind power, which is actually three times the capacity of those four deadbeat dams.
I believe the solution for those irrigators who have chosen to go ahead a let wild salmon and steelhead go extinct is instead in the investment in some longer pipe. Because the ultimate solution to saving mitigation money and dam maintenance money and all that government boondoggle we've got going on up here in these parts is the breaching of four lower Snake River dams.
Don't forget that 86 percent of fisheries biologists agree that breaching the lower Snake River dams is the best opportunity that wild salmonids have for recovery in the Snake River Basin. Need more??? Well, back when there were three mainstem dams on the Columbia and only Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake, those endangered and threatened salmonids in the Snake River Basin had smolt-to-adult return rates above or well within the 2-6 percent rates required for recovery and species survival. With the addition of three more lower Snake dams and McNary Dam on the Columbia River, those SARs plummeted and today we get at best 1 percent return, which is below recovery levels and even threatens the very survival of our endangered and threatened chinook, sockeye and steelhead.
I'm not trying to belittle an organization that represents 120 people. However, their solution is no solution at all. It is unacceptable to peer into the future of the Pacific Northwest and write wild salmonids off because you're worried about your irrigation water. All you need is more pipe and that ain't an insurmountable problem like four lower Snake River dams are for the survival of wild salmonids. Breach the dams and watch those mitigation bills decline precipitously.
Don't miss the 3rd Annual Free the Snake Flotilla Sept. 8-9 at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston, WA. The flotilla launches at 10 a.m. and will paddle a six-mile round trip. As a point of relevance, last year's flotilla had four times as many people, almost four times as many boats as that irrigation group represents. Don't lose sight of that. Ours is a broad coalition seeking a better world for everyone and quite frankly everything. This irrigation group's plan to allow wild salmonids to go extinct is short-sighted and narrow-minded. Their plan would worsen the lives of the people in the Pacific Northwest, indeed in the world. Because a world without wild salmonids in the Snake River Basin is indeed an impoverished world staring at a diminished future of despair. I'm sure they'll come around to seeing things our way. Our way of thinking ultimately saves mitigation money but allows for wild salmonids to recover in the basin.
Dismal steelhead numbers don't resemble record runs of abundance, but this year's run might set a more dubious record
Hi Salmon Nation, I know it's been a while since I blogged. Yes, I did blog yesterday to tell you about the 3rd Annual Free the Snake Flotilla. I haven't gone anywhere and nothing is wrong with me, I've just been incredibly busy and unable to spend the time I need to spend to write compelling blogs. A lot has happened since I essentially stopped blogging, this website turned five years old, for one. We now have an administration that seems to be against pretty much the entire conservation and environmental movement and well just about everything that is decent and good about America. Our streets are choked with racists and nazi cowards, but they are also filled with Americans who stand up against them, so hope remains.
On the wild salmon of the Snake River Basin front, the enemies of wild salmon are making up stories and drawing up bills to thwart the public process. They are lying about dams and record runs of fish, in that they are proclaiming record abundance when this may well be the worst steelhead year in a very long time, if not the worst. Numbers at Bonneville Dam are only better than two other years since Bonneville Dam was completed and counting steelhead at the dam became a thing. Idaho Fish and Game managers say it possible we will not see their low projection of steelhead return this year. A bad steelhead year does not come as a surprise to me, nor would any bad year for any other wild salmonid or the hatchery ones for that matter of the Snake River Basin. The main culprit, which isn't sea lion depredation at Bonneville Dam, nor the blob, nor low flows. The culprit are the four H's caused by the H's. Harvest, hydro, habitat and hatcheries by humans. I don't mean to say the blob (area of warm water off the Pacific Northwest coast), or low flows or even sea lion predation aren't problems, but I mean to say we've placed so many obstacles in front of these fish that it's easy to choose something new. Food supply in the ocean is another reason for the low return. If you remove the four lower Snake River dams, you build in resilience, you create abundance that means more fish make it to the ocean and it tracks that more fish would make it back from the ocean unless the problem in the ocean is incredibly lethal.
I want to single out sea lion predation for really only one reason, sea lion predation is a problem because of the bottleneck at the dams. Sea lions have always eaten salmon and the problem today has more to do with the bottleneck at the Bonneville fish ladder or at the Willamette fish ladder than it has to do with sea lions eating salmon. They have simply found a really good place to find food. If we remove the lower Snake River dams, there will be more smolts making it to the ocean and more adults returning to the rivers. The predation by sea lions will not be felt as sharply.
The blob is a concern and the loss of food for young salmonids in the ocean is troubling. Climate change, something our current government refuses to acknowledge, and ocean acidity levels due to the ocean's increased carbon absorption (due to our carbon dioxide emissions primarily, a main cause of climate change) are serious problems and wouldn't it be great if we could not have created serious obstacles to wild salmonid survival at every point and stage of their lives? There are studies showing the size of adult copepods are decreasing due to carbon dissolving in our oceans creating a more acidic ocean. The same thing is happening to shellfish that need a higher ph or a more basic ph to grow their shells. Anyway, it's a serious problem, caused by humans. Way to go team! Additionally, referring back to the blob, mass of warm water in northeast Pacific Ocean, this has less nutritious warmwater copepods for steelhead to eat and for various forage fish to eat, which steelhead and salmon eat to get fat. Coldwater copepods are far more nutritious and are the basis for the food chain that young salmonids rely on for survival and to thrive in the ocean.
The hydro system of the Columbia/Snake remains the biggest threat to steelhead. Habitat degradation and hydro go hand in hand decimating wild salmonids, especially in the Snake River Basin. We've learned that hatcheries are definitely capable of inflicting irreparable damage to steelhead specifically (more on that in a later blog dealing with hatcheries and hatchery management). Let's take a look at the numbers for steelhead at this point and compare those to last year and the 10-year average at this point in the season. Then, I am going to give you the annual total steelhead returns through Lower Granite Dam since 1997. This is to paint you a picture as only the data can.
(as of Aug. 12, 2017, source Fish Passage Center)
Dam Year Steelhead Wild Steelhead
Bonneville 2017 36,721 17,088
Bonneville 2016 81,873 29,786
Bonneville 10-YR AVG 162,654 67,488
(EDITOR'S NOTE: STEELHEAD NUMBERS AT LOWER GRANITE APPEAR HIGHER DUE TO A GROUP OF STEELHEAD THAT ENTER THE RIVERS BETWEEN OCTOBER AND DECEMBER THAT SPEND THEIR WINTERS BELOW LOWER GRANITE DAM BEFORE COMPLETING THEIR MIGRATION UPSTREAM IN MARCH.)
Lower Granite 2017 7,710 3,318
Lower Granite 2016 9,268 4,947
Lower Granite 10-YR AVG 15,061 6,129
(Steelhead passage from July 1 to August 12 at Lower Granite Dam)
Wild Steelhead 257
Hatchery Steelhead 393
Annual Steelhead Totals through Lower Granite Dam last 20 years
Year Steelhead Wild Steelhead
1997 85,917 8,991
1998 72,017 9,559
1999 74,370 11,746
2000 113,211 20,604
2001 262,568 47,716
2002 218,718 57,291
2003 180,672 45,391
2004 154,389 36,209
2005 155,783 35,977
2006 145,991 29,836
2007 155,783 33,183
2008 175,481 43,678
2009 323,697 76,203
2010 206,885 48,105
2011 183,648 31,426
2012 110,675 33,634
2013 107,910 33,426
2014 164,088 52,151
2015 139,776 39,272
2016 100,176 23,786
It's impossible to see record numbers of abundance in those numbers. Especially, when you look at the historical run size estimates. The most often used is the 10-16 million wild salmonids returning to the Columbia/Snake each year with about half of those wild salmonids (5-8 million) returning to the Snake River Basin. That's the number the Northwest Council adopted in 1987 that was arrived at by using lower river commercial catch records. The council also did an alternative method of lower river commercial catch plus upriver Indian and settler catch and came up with 12.5 to 13 million adult fish returning each year.
The Bonneville Power Administration in 1984 estimated the historical run size to be 35 million fish based on a fish wheel catch. And there were other estimates, two that placed the historical run at about 8 million fish (Chapman 1986 and Pacific Fishery Management Council which used a habitat available approach) Dr. Allan Scholz also came to 12-16 million fish annually in 1985. Even from the lower estimates, today's numbers do not represent anything remotely like a record run of abundance.
One estimate from historical run sizes that ended up with 7.5 million fish attempted to give a historical makeup of the various Pacific salmon and their abundance within the run. Chinook led the way with 3.75 million, Sockeye were next at 2.25 million, and coho, chum and steelhead runs were each about 500,000 in the Columbia Snake. Let's say half of that historical steelhead run was bound for the Snake River (250,000) and they were all wild fish, though hatcheries began infiltrating the populations in the 1800s. Does the wild steelhead number crossing the Lower Granite Dam in anyway resemble 250,000 fish?
I know what you are saying and you are partly correct, I should have you compare that number with passage of steelhead at Ice Harbor. There are counts at that dam dating back to 1962, and do you know how many years steelhead (hatchery plus wild) beat the historical average of about 250,000 (I am basing off the low estimate historical run)? Two times, just two years did our hatchery production plus wild steelhead production mean that the Snake River got back more fish than a low estimate of historical runs, those years were 2001 and 2009. Now, let's extrapolate (oh boy we love it when I do math...because I am so bad at it) Let's assume that the fish run makeup was correct in its shares of the run by specific Pacific salmon. If so, steelhead made up about 6.67 percent of the run. To check ourselves last year through Bonneville there were 1,404,632 salmonids (minus the three pink salmon I am not including because they weren't included in that historical low estimate) and there were 240,406 steelhead through Bonneville Dam, which is about 17 percent of the run. How do we handle this discrepancy of 17 percent today and 6.7 percent historically? Well, one thing we have to do is acknowledge the virtual nonexistence of chum salmon in the Columbia/Snake, there were 47 chum salmon last year through Bonneville Dam. We also must look at the serious decline of Coho salmon. Last year saw 47,509 coho salmon pass through Bonneville Dam or about 3.4 percent of the run. The sockeye run last year was about 24.4 percent compared to 30 percent of the historical run. The chinook run made up about 55.1 percent of the run last year compared to half the historical run. We also must acknowledge that those historical run estimates were based heavily on fish catches that were made long before fish would have gotten to Bonneville Dam had it been there, so there's bound to be some discrepancy with the counting methods that we must acknowledge. But for comparison sake, you are going to see that the idea that we've had record runs of fish during the era of dams is a laughable premise.
If the run was 16 million fish, based on those percentages historically, we would see 8 million chinook, 4.8 million sockeye, 1,072,000 steelhead and then the same number of chum salmon and coho salmon as steelhead. At 10 million, we would see 5 million chinook, 3 million sockeye, 667,000 steelhead, 667,000 chum and 667,000 coho. If that was the case then historically (based on the adopted Northwest Council estimate of historical salmonid runs of 10-16 million fish and about half of the run swimming up the Snake River) we would have expected to see 333,667 to 536,000 steelhead swimming up the Snake River before the dams. Did any of those 20 years I shared with you about steelhead through Lower Granite or any of that Ice Harbor data that goes back to 1962 or any of those 10-year averages give you any doubt that anyone touting record runs during the era of the dams, is propagating fiction? It's simply not correct, in no way, shape, manner or form. Any member of the media, who doesn't point this huge discrepancy out when they report on these politicians who want to thwart the public process and make null and void a court ruling from May 2016 are doing everyone in the Pacific Northwest and the United States of America a huge disservice. It goes without saying just how great a disservice Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers's bill represents, but these days nightmares come true and those anti-salmon folks out there are counting on facts not mattering to you. This country has a lot of work ahead of it, we need to come together right now and demand facts carry the weight facts should carry and sensible solutions to problems should be implemented. Breaching four lower Snake River dams makes a whole lot of economic sense these days and the ecological dividends are enormous and would reach into the future for millennia if we just do the right thing for wild salmonids of the Snake River Basin. I might add that now is the time to do it, rather than allow all of these incredibly expensive hydro system maintenance projects to go to completion. It's passed time to breach those deadbeat dams.
Next up for the Salmon Blog, I'm going to point out just how irrelevant that irrigation group calling on Trump to initiate the god squad to speed up wild salmonid extinction really are. But that probably won't take very long. So, I'll probably talk about some other issues as well.
Don't miss the 3rd Annual Free the Snake Flotilla Sept. 8-9 at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston, WA. The flotilla launches at 10 a.m. and will paddle a six-mile round trip. Last year's flotilla had four times more people than that irrigation group that's calling for wild salmonid extinction, just to give some perspective, which is largely missing in today's world.
If you care about the plight of wild salmonids in the Snake River Basin or saving the wild so it doesn't disappear, you should definitely mark your calendars for Sept. 8-9, 2017 for the Third Annual Free the Snake Flotilla 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. at Chief Timothy Park. All event details can be found here.
Here is the plan for the 3rd Annual Free the Snake Flotilla...
Friday, Sept. 8, 2017
A guest speaker and live music from Folkinception at Chief Timothy Park. Flotilla participants are encouraged to join for camping both Friday and Saturday nights. Camping is first-come, first-served..
Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017
Meet at Chief Timothy Park boat launch parking lot in Clarkston, Wash. There will be parking lot volunteers to greet people, facilitate unloading watercraft and parking vehicles. Look for flotilla registration table to sign waivers. Coffee and light breakfast foods will be provided. A flotilla logistics and water safety team talk will follow.
Launch boats. You are responsible for your own water, snacks, etc. See Flotilla Essentials above. This year we will paddle 3 miles downstream from the park through several beautiful portions of the Snake River Canyon. Round-trip paddle will be 6 miles.
Return to Chief Timothy Park and eat lunch. There will be food for sale, but participants are welcome to bring food, too.The remainder of the afternoon is for conversation, relaxation and reflection. For those who are camping at the park it will be a good time to set up camp.
Live music by Smackout Pack, Atlas Hugged and additional festivities at Chief Timothy Park. Camping available.
Northwest Reps. write ‘death warrant’ for Idaho’s salmon and steelhead
Five Northwest political leaders yesterday introduced legislation seeking to block a federal court order that requires increased protections for Idaho’s endangered salmon.
“These five members of Congress have written a death warrant for endangered salmon,” said IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis. “This bill must be stopped dead in its tracks.”
The bill was introduced by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Greg Walden, R-Ore. and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. The legislation is aimed at an April decision by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon that requires federal, state and tribal fisheries experts to work together to improve conditions in the Columbia and Snake rivers for young salmon migrating to the ocean. The court also required new environmental analyses due in 2018.
“Idaho’s iconic salmon have been teetering on the brink of extinction for more than 25 years with little progress toward recovery," Lewis said. "During that time federal courts have repeatedly instructed federal agencies to follow the law and create a sound plan to prevent extinction of these fish. Inviting Congress to ignore a massive body of scientific work that identifies the real causes of salmon decline is unconscionable. This bill should be dead on arrival.
The bill can be viewed here: https://mcmorris.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/MCMORR_021_xml.pdf
VANCOUVER, Wash. – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today voted to implement the next phase of the state's reform policy on Columbia River salmon management, including updates to provisions for fall chinook salmon.
The updated policy builds on a joint strategy by Washington and Oregon to restructure recreational and commercial salmon fisheries on the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam.
Adopted by the commission in 2013, the policy was designed to promote conservation of salmon and steelhead, prioritize recreational salmon fishing in the lower Columbia River, and transition gillnet fisheries into off-channel areas by Dec. 31, 2016. The policy also calls for increasing hatchery releases in these areas, while expanding commercial fishing opportunities through the use of alternative fishing gear.
The policy included a four-year transition period, with full implementation scheduled for 2017, but also allowed for modifications to the plan.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), voted to implement most of the key provisions of the current policy but modified the allocation of fall chinook salmon between the recreational and commercial fisheries.
The modification increases the recreational fishery's share of fall chinook from 70 to 75 percent for the next two years, before increasing to 80 percent in 2019. Originally the policy called for the allocation to increase to 80 percent in 2017. The updated policy also would explicitly allow a mainstem commercial gillnet fishery for upriver bright fall chinook upstream from the confluence of the Lewis River in 2017 and 2018, but requires improved fisheries monitoring.
"While we have made a couple changes to the policy for the next two years, we are committed to full implementation, meeting conservation goals and transitioning gillnets into off-channels areas," said Larry Carpenter, vice-chair of the commission.
The commission approved fully implementing the current policy's planned allocation shift for spring chinook, increasing the recreational fishery's share of the stock from 70 to 80 percent beginning this year. The allocation of summer chinook for the recreational fishery also would increase from 70 to 80 percent this year.
In addition, the commission directed staff to move forward with developing and implementing the use of alternative commercial fishing gear by 2019, and aggressively pursue a buyback program for commercial gillnet licenses.
The updated policy, which will be available in the next week on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/, was approved by a 7 to 2 vote.
Also during its two-day meeting (Jan. 13-14) in Vancouver, the commission voted to keep woodland caribou, western pond turtles and sandhill cranes on Washington's list of endangered species.
The commission also adopted updates – mostly housekeeping changes – to the North of Falcon policy, which provides direction to fishery managers in defining annual salmon fishing seasons in Washington's waters. As part of the discussion, the commission received a briefing on open public meetings law and efforts to provide greater transparency during the season-setting process.
Commissioners also approved several land transactions including the purchase of 1,280 acres of Department of Natural Resources land in the Stemilt Basin in Chelan County for $1.95 million. The purchase allows the department to preserve habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species and provide public access for outdoor recreation.
WDFW staff also presented an overview of last year's efforts by the department to stop a wolf pack from preying on livestock in a federal grazing area in northeast Washington. Following a new protocol developed in conjunction with its Wolf Advisory Group, the department removed seven members of the Profanity Peak pack after non-lethal measures failed to stop the attacks on cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest. A new report on WDFW's management action is posted on the department's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/.
In other news, Gov. Jay Inslee has re-appointed Kim Thorburn to the commission and appointed Barbara Baker, of Thurston County, to succeed Conrad Mahnken, of Bainbridge Island. Mahnken, who served on the commission for 11 years, did not seek re-appointment when his term expired at the beginning of this year.
The commission also re-elected Brad Smith chair and Larry Carpenter vice-chair.
Thank you for coming to my blog about restoring wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin. At times, I may write something that is either controversial or something you do not agree with (this being America and all). In no way, does something I have written that you disagree with make you a victim. You are reading my opinion and if you disagree, that's not earth shattering to me. I expect that you might disagree. Disagreement is not something to be avoided. It's how we can learn. We learn by making mistakes and by listening to each other and figuring out where there are holes in our worldview. And everyone has gigantic gaping holes in their worldviews, including me and you. That being said, we continue to destroy our world. We need to stop doing that. You may argue jobs are important, and you are correct, they are important. However, our world and the health of our environment is far more important than some temporary job that your corporate master will take from you the second they see a better bottom line somewhere else. Consider that fact as we continue to destroy our world and as you read this blog. It ain't about you, yet then again it is about you in that it is about all of us and how we the destroyers of our planet have to wake up and start restoring what we've destroyed. Thank you again for reading, I really do hope something you read here is thought provoking. I also hope that you will join me in the hope that this will be the generation that saves wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin rather than the generation that watched as they passed into history.
Michael Wells is an award winning journalist and photographer living in Idaho. He can be reached at salmonblog AT yahoo DOT com.