We are experiencing some of our worst returns on record for both salmon and steelhead.
The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that we need a free-flowing lower Snake River to recover Idaho’s salmon and steelhead. Over several decades, multiple transparent and high-integrity scientific assessments that included Tribal, federal, University and state agency scientists have come to this same conclusion.
Unless we take bold action to change the current trajectory, these fish will continue to decline – and eventually go extinct.
The time is now for the lower Snake
It is time for the lower four lower Snake River dams to come down.Tell Congress that we need them to lead on a robust economic development package that takes down the lower four dams and rebuilds our northwest economy.
We can build new rail lines, new roads, and new water infrastructure. We can redevelop and create new economic opportunities for our state and the region.
Lower Snake salmon and steelhead have no other options
Over the past 25 years, the Snake basin has averaged less than two returning adults for every 100 smolt. Biologists from Oregon and Idaho, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and various tribes estimate that Snake River dam breaching will increase smolt-to-adult return ratios by four times.
Taking out the four lower Snake River dams would return 140 miles of habitat to a naturally functioning river and significantly reduce the time it takes for smolts to make it to the ocean.
Overwhelmingly, the evidence has led us to conclude that removal of the four lower Snake River dams is the single most important step we can take to recover abundant, fishable and harvestable Snake River salmon and steelhead.
What is the problem with the lower four Snake River dams?
The most recent science indicates that each of the lower four dams reduces fish survival by 20 to 25 percent. It’s important to understand that salmon and steelhead are not harmed only when they encounter the concrete and turbines. Rather, fish take a beating throughout the entire system, and the blows are cumulative.
Is it the ocean, or other habitat issues in the Columbia?
Other migratory fish in the Columbia system (such as those originating in the John Day River) face the same estuary and water quality conditions in the Columbia River as fish originating in the Snake River watershed. However, those populations outside the Snake River watershed are not faring as poorly. To recover Snake River populations, we must address their primary limiting factor, and that is the Snake dams.
Why do some say salmon are fine, while others say salmon are struggling?
The difference between what is required to achieve ESA recovery compared to the Columbia Basin Partnership’s “healthy and harvestable” recovery goal for wild salmon was clearly spelled out by NOAA Fisheries in its September 2022 report Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead.
The lower four Snake River dams are in eastern Washington, forming a 140-mile long reservoir from Pasco, Washington to Lewiston, Idaho. These 140 miles of hot, slack water are the root of crashing salmon populations. To be clear, dams in Idaho are not part of this discussion. Neither are any of the main-stem Columbia River dams, which are more important to the region’s infrastructure.
The fact is that salmon and steelhead returns in the Snake River Basin over the past 5 years have been among the lowest ever recorded. In 2022, some salmon and steelhead returning to the Snake River have shown some signs of improvement – but only when lumping wild and hatchery fish counts together, and only when compared to terrible recent seasons. Learn more: The need to breach the Lower Snake River dams: A look at 2022 fish returns
If we remove the dams, will salmon come back?
It is abundantly clear that the lower four Snake River dams are the primary cause of declines to wild salmon in the Snake River basin. The Snake River basin is the largest, most climate resilient area of salmon habitat left in the lower 48 and contains 40 percent of all the coldwater habitat for Pacific salmon in the entire contiguous United States. Salmon are resilient creatures, surviving ice ages and a geologically active landscape. If we give them access to the most significant habitat left in the lower-48, then salmon can once again thrive.
Can we take other actions and leave the lower four in place?
In short, no. Other actions like hatcheries, barging, and spill have been tried and failed. Investments like habitat restoration and culvert replacement need dam removal to capitalize on the improvements.
In a changing climate, is lower Snake River dam removal a good investment?
Yes. The Snake Basin is an intact, protected, high elevation habitat that will be a refuge for salmon and steelhead as lower elevation rivers become less hospitable for coldwater fish due to climate change.
No. Hatchery fish do not count toward Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing status. More importantly, hatchery smolt die at a rate even higher than wild fish in the lower four hydrosystem. Spending billions of dollars on hatcheries for the Snake River is a failing investment producing poor returns for the region.