Save Idaho's Salmon

idaho-salmonIn 1913 my grandfather worked for the Forest Service in Salmon, Idaho. I have his photo album with a picture showing fishermen in "downtown" Salmon, over 800 miles from the Pacific, holding salmon over 3' long. As an Easterner come West, imagine the sense of wonder he must have felt.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Idaho creeks ran thick with spawning salmon - an estimated four million salmon and steelhead returned to spawn each year. Born in high-mountain streams, traveling downriver to live most of their lives in the ocean, and swimming as far as 900 miles upriver to reproduce at the place of their birth, these anadromous fish are the subject of legends, history and poetry. Their journey still mystifies scientists.

Today, my grandfather's great grandchildren would be lucky to see even a handful of salmon in Idaho. Every native run of salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin is either already extinct or listed on the Endangered Species Act. These listed runs will become extinct very soon if a new course of action isn't taken.

The main reason for the demise of Idaho's fish is clear - dams. Since the four lower Snake River dams were completed in 1975, Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead runs have crashed by nearly 90 percent. While the dams do have fish ladders to assist the fish in upstream migration, the biggest death toll comes when they are traveling downstream to the sea. Scientists estimate that over 80 percent of smolts (young fish) are killed as they pass through the dams' turbines and warm, predator-laden reservoirs. For over 20 years the Army Corps of Engineers has tried to solve this problem by removing smolts from the river and sending them to the ocean in barges and trucks. Sadly, $3 billion later, this program has failed to halt the decline of salmon and steelhead runs.

save-idaho-salmon What is the answer?
Independent scientific studies confirm that Idaho's ocean-going fish runs need a more natural, free-flowing river to survive. We don't need to destroy the lower Snake River dams to get our fish back, we just need to remove the earthen portion of the dams so the river can flow around them. If necessary, the dams could be made operational again simply by putting the earthfill back in place. Once the dams are bypassed, scientists say there is an 80-100 percent chance that salmon runs can be restored to pre-dam (1960's) levels within 15-24 years, depending on the run. That would mean over 100,000 big, beautiful, wild salmon and steelhead returning to the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers every year.

What would this cost?
A 1998 study by National Tax Payers for Common Sense shows that bypassing the dams will actually save the region $318 million in the next five years due to the elimination of costly and ineffective fish mitigation programs such as barging. In addition, the return of recreational fishing for salmon and steelhead would pump $150 million a year into river communities in Idaho and sustain 4,500 family wage jobs. Bypassing the dams will have no effect on regional market rates for electricity largely because these four dams produce only 4% of the region's electricity.

This is an enormously important time.

Very soon our nation and the current Administration will decide on a long-term recovery plan for Snake River salmon and steelhead. We need your help to ensure they choose the only common sense recovery plan - the Natural River Option - including the removal of the earthen portion of the four lower Snake River dams. This has a one-time-only cost, a high probability of recovering fish runs, and is the only option that does not require additional Idaho water for flow augmentation.

Will we pass into the next millenium knowing that we are doing all we can to save these magnificent fish from extinction? Or will the anniversary simply mark the end of another species due to our greed, ignorance and myopic vision? My choice is clear. I want my children to see the runs of fish as my grandfather did.

I hope you will join me in saving Idaho's salmon and steelhead. Let your representatives in Congress know you care and that they should too. Tell them that losing Idaho's salmon and steelhead would be as tragic as losing the bald eagle, the wolf or the grizzly bear.


Write Your Representative
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Write Your Senator
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20515

We also encourage you to join Idaho Rivers United and American Rivers. Both are a conservation organizations working hard to save free-flowing rivers. IRU is the lead organization in the effort to save the salmon.

Idaho Rivers United
PO Box 633
Boise, ID 83701

American Rivers
1025 Vermont Ave W Ste 720
Washington DC 20005-3516

When you go on a ROW trip, you have another opportunity to help save the rivers. On your trip invoice, you'll find a voluntary "pass through" donation of $1 per person per day for the protection of rivers. Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers and other river preservation organizations will benefit from this donation and will fight to preserve free-flowing rivers for generations to come. If you choose not to make this contribution, simply delete it from your invoice. ROW also donates a minimum of 5% of pre-tax profits to help save the salmon.