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How Was 2017 for Northwest Salmon?

Conservation groups say the lower Snake River dams need to come down if salmon populations in the Northwest are to recover. (Wilson Hui/Flickr)
Conservation groups say the lower Snake River dams need to come down if salmon populations in the Northwest are to recover. (Wilson Hui/Flickr)
December 26, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – Salmon and steelhead in the Northwest faced another alarming year in 2017, with return numbers declining yet again.

Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition, said poor ocean conditions hurt the fish this year, although he added those conditions were out of human control.

However, Bogaard said some federal agencies did miss an opportunity over the past 10 to 15 years to help salmon while ocean conditions were better for the fish, especially through its management of the dams on the lower Snake River.

"That missed opportunity is the result of a lack of leadership on the part of the agencies to follow the science and live up to their obligation under the law to properly protect these fish as they move through this river system, which has been heavily engineered to produce energy,” Bogaard said.

Bogaard said efforts over the last two decades to bolster salmon on the Snake River have not been working, despite the fact that they have cost taxpayers about $10 billion. The dams are important for producing hydropower for the region, as well as irrigation for landowners.

Ultimately, he believes the region needs to consider taking down the dams in order to save salmon. He said there are some encouraging signs that this idea is gaining popularity, such as an in-depth piece from the Idaho Statesman on the importance of these fish and the condition of the dams.

Bogaard said there are a lot of advantages for the region.

"Restored river, restored fisheries, restored lands,” he said. "But let's make sure we properly plan to make a transition that keeps communities whole, that allows businesses that currently occur and rely on that system have alternatives."

Bogaard said salmon also are important for the survival of Northwest orcas, which are dying off at alarming rates. He said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee plans to start an emergency task force to save killer whales, and this is an encouraging development for salmon as well.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID