This month, Trout Unlimited joined dozens of fish and wildlife groups and major outdoor recreation companies in calling on the Biden administration to develop a comprehensive solution to the collapse of salmon and steelhead populations that includes removing the four dams on the lower Snake River and investing billions of dollars in a reimagining of infrastructure in the Northwest.
The Northwest is experiencing the worst summer steelhead returns on record. Steelhead stocks from British Columbia to southern Oregon and as far inland as the Snake River basin are doing poorly. Sadly, we are likely to see greater variability in run sizes, with smaller peaks and deeper troughs.
Wild Snake River salmon and steelhead are on the brink of extinction, but we can bring these incredible fish back to abundance. Tackling the most ambitious river restoration project in history with the goal of redeveloping and reinvigorating the Northwest economy is not a challenge, it is an opportunity.
Questioning whether dam removal alone could recover Snake River salmon and steelhead misses the point. The question we need to answer is this: Can we recover abundant, healthy, and fishable and harvestable Snake River salmon and steelhead with the four lower Snake River dams in place?
The equation is simple. It’s hot. It’s going to get hotter, which is why it is so urgent to increase access for salmon and steelhead to the thousands of square miles of the most climate-resilient, high-elevation habitat in the Snake River basin by removing the lower four Snake River dams.
Today, there are many so-called “mitigation hatcheries” in the Snake River basin that are intended to produce enough salmon and steelhead to make up for the wild fish that were lost when their habitat was blocked by dams.
With momentum building to halt the disastrous decline of the Snake River’s salmon and steelhead by removing four dams on the lower river, opponents are scrambling to lay blame elsewhere. Enter the big, bad ocean.
If you’re wondering why salmon and steelhead populations in the Snake River are in trouble, the answer is obvious: It’s the four dams on the lower Snake and the reservoirs behind them: They kill too many fish.
Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee took two actions over the past week that represent steps backward in steelhead and salmon conservation.
These remarks were delivered on Thursday, May 13, at the 2021 Environmental Conference at the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University by Chris Wood, the President and CEO of Trout Unlimited.