Feb 21, 2023
BY GREGG SERVHEEN
We write as 65 professional resource scientists and managers with over 2,000 years of combined natural resource management experience. Managing wild salmon and steelhead has been our collective responsibility for decades.
Throughout the Pacific Northwest, ratepayers and taxpayers have invested considerably in habitat restoration, hatcheries, and research and monitoring. Through these efforts our understanding of salmon and steelhead has increased, essential habitat improvements have been made, and sport and tribal fishing harvest has been supported. We have also learned that all our half measure actions are not enough and never will be without removing the four Lower Snake River dams. Wild salmon and steelhead are now at their historically lowest abundance and their populations continue to decline.
Before constructing the lower Snake River dams, juvenile salmon and steelhead traveled on the spring flows from Idaho downstream to the Pacific Ocean in a few days. The four Lower Snake River dams transformed the river into a series of static reservoirs that now force these fish to expend precious energy swimming where they used to float. Now the trip to the ocean is harder and takes weeks. Migrating juvenile salmon and steelhead must navigate the four Lower Snake River dams and their pools followed by four more downstream dams and pools. Upon their return, the four Lower Snake River dams impede and constrict adult salmon returning back to their native streams to spawn.
The doubt that removing the lower four Snake River dams is the single best thing for Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead is zero. It is the single best thing to do and is our best, all but guaranteed, chance of success. Nothing else will give these fish a better chance.
We understand that removing the dams will impact some people with interests linked to those dams. U.S. Rep. Michael Simpson’s proposed Columbia Basin Initiative recognizes this and outlines specific actions and funding to reduce negative impacts.
Some still argue that the region cannot replace the power we would lose when we remove the Lower Snake River dams. However, we have been and are gaining many megawatts of power through all the energy conservation actions of households, families, businesses, communities, cities and states across the grid. In addition, megawatts of renewable energy continue to come online. We have the power we need.
Removing the Lower Snake River dam will set the Pacific Northwest on a course for a more dynamic, vibrant, and climate-adapted future. The long-term ecological, economic, and societal gains from salmon recovery to Idaho and the region will vastly outweigh and outlast the short-term and local impacts of dam removal. We don’t have any excuse to keep waiting. Wild salmon and steelhead can’t wait. Let’s not delay any longer. We can do this.
Gregg Servheen is a wildlife biologist and resource manager with 34+ years of experience in the Columbia River Basin. He says he is a hunter, fly fisherman, backpacker, photographer, birder, and loves nature, wild Idaho and its people.