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Save Our Wild Salmon

By Keith Ridler
Nov 26, 2020

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A unique population of salmon that for thousands of
years has been reproducing in one of Idaho’s wildest places experienced
a small increase in adults returning to spawn this year.

But the number of chinook salmon returning to the Middle Fork of the
Salmon River and its tributaries is just a tiny fraction of historic
numbers, experts said.

“More is better, but it’s still abysmal numbers,” said Russ Thurow, a
research fisheries scientist with the U.S. Forest Service based in the
small city of Salmon. “We’re bouncing around just above extinction."

A survey completed in September of spawning beds found that about 900
chinook salmon, which can surpass 20 pounds, returned this year
compared to 320 last year.

Most of the basin is protected in the Frank Church River of No Return
Wilderness. It contains about 460 miles of still pristine spawning
habitat that in the 1800s experienced an annual return of an estimated
150,000 adult salmon.

Spawning bed surveys from the 1950s and 1960s led to an estimate of
nearly 50,000 salmon returning those years before the runs plummeted
following the completion of dams on the Snake River.

Middle Fork Salmon River chinook salmon have a pristine habitat, are
not influenced by salmon hatcheries and are rarely caught by anglers
based on studies that track tagged salmon. That isolates dams used for
hydropower as the main problem limiting the fish’s recovery.

Salmon from Idaho must pass through four dams on the Snake River in
eastern Washington and four more on the Columbia River.

Throughout the Columbia River Basin, more than $16 billion has been
spent over the past three decades trying to save salmon and steelhead.

In a decision criticized by environmentalists, the U.S. government in
July announced that four huge dams on the Snake River in Washington
state will not be removed.

“Until we do a better job of reducing those harms caused by the hydro
systems, and especially for Snake River fish, I think that we’re going
to continue to spend a lot of money and not deliver results,” said
Joseph Bogaard of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition.

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