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What's “Most Endangered” - the River or the Fish?

April 8, 2009

Portland, OR – The debate has raged for years about removing the four dams on the Lower Snake River in Idaho, close to northeastern Oregon. Now, those same dams are the reason the Snake is on a new list of the country's top ten "Most Endangered Rivers," compiled by the group American Rivers. The group's Washington state conservation director, Michael Garrity, says that unless the Lower Snake is allowed to flow freely again, native salmon will remain on the endangered species list, because it's too tough for the fish to get to the high mountain streams to spawn.

"We have a real opportunity to restore salmon and steelhead to the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states – if we can just get them up there in adequate numbers. And the reason they're not getting there right now is a bottleneck that's caused by the Lower Snake River dams."

Patti Glick, senior global warming specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, says she's not surprised by the choice. The Snake is a working river, used for irrigation, barge traffic and hydropower, and she believes the region will have to make some major changes if native salmon are to survive.

"We have alternatives to hydropower in the region, we have alternatives to river transportation, so we don't have to lose out on those services. But we can, in the meantime, glean a lot of benefit if we do the right thing and remove the dams."

The Lower Snake is number three on this year's list; it also made the most endangered list about ten years ago.

Opponents of dam removal say it would be too costly and that enough is being done to restore fish habitat. But fishing and conservation groups have asked the Obama administration to start a new round of negotiations about Northwest salmon survival.

The full report is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR