Landmark Research Predicts Runs Extinct By 2017
7/9/1999 -- -- Portland, Oregon -- July 9, 1999 -- Wild Snake River spring and summer chinook salmon could be extinct by the year 2017 unless steps are taken soon to stop the declining population levels, officials with the national conservation organization Trout Unlimited said today.
The extinction findings were reached in a peer-reviewed study conducted by Dr. Philip Mundy, which was publicly released today in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Mundy, a well-respected and widely published expert on Snake River salmon, developed the extinction model based on counts of salmon on spawning grounds - the most reliable data available on salmon population trends. The salmon spawning ground counts have been conducted annually by biologists with the Idaho Department of Game and Fish on Snake River tributaries for approximately 30 years.
"What makes this study so credible is that it is based on spawning ground counts -- real fish in real tributaries. Unfortunately, what it tells us is that wild salmon on the Snake River are in very serious trouble and could in fact be extinct in less than a generation," said Jeff Curtis, Western Conservation Director for Trout Unlimited.
The study found that all five brood lines of Snake River wild spring and summer chinook populations are declining rapidly and, if present trends continue, will be categorized as extinct between the years 2008 and 2017. While some of these salmon may be returning to spawn in 2017, the population of the species would have declined to such a degree that they would have lost their ability to be self-sustaining beyond that point in time.
A salmon population is considered extinct when it has lost its genetic diversity, which occurs when population levels drop to the point that inbreeding starts to occur.
At one time, Snake River spring and summer chinooks were one of the strongest salmon runs in the Columbia River system. Early explorers reported seeing the river teem with fish. When the Lewis and Clark expedition came down the Clearwater to the Snake, William Clark wrote that the river was "crouded with salmon." The number of Snake River spring/summer chinook in the late 1800s was estimated to be more than 1.5 million fish annually.
"This study is a wake-up call or, better yet, an alarm to the public and decision makers that this problem isn't going to go away on its own. If we want wild, native chinook salmon on the Snake River to exist, then we need to take steps to assure that existence," Curtis said.
Trout Unlimited released the study at a new conference in front of a billboard they erected in downtown Portland. The billboard has a picture of an infant and reads, "Wild Snake River Spring Chinook will be extinct before her 18th birthday. . . Act now to save the salmon." Trout Unlimited officials say the billboard was erected to draw attention to the study as well as the importance of taking action to save wild stocks of Snake River salmon.
"The findings of the report make it clear that the salmon bureaucracy cannot study this problem much longer - action is needed very soon to avoid extinction. The positive news is, if we act now, we can save these wild populations of Snake River salmon," Curtis said.
Curtis said a variety of factors have all influenced the decline of wild Snake River salmon. He said those factors include dams, overfishing, the misuse of hatcheries and habitat destruction.
Trout Unlimited is North America's leading coldwater conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Founded in 1959, TU has more than 110,000 members in nearly 500 chapters in North America
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