The moment remains etched in memory. We hiked in neoprene wetsuits pulled down to our waists because it was 85 degrees, but the rivers we snorkeled in were a LOT colder.
The stream, a tributary of the South Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, was small, perhaps 10 yards wide. I recall how my mask made the stoneflies that tumbled by so large (and scary). I pulled myself around some deadfall and exclaimed an audible “whoa!” taking in a fair amount of water through my snorkel in the process.
Undulating in the stream before me were two steelhead. Beat up, bruised and ready to spawn. I thought about the 700 miles and 7,000 feet they climbed; the eight dams they traversed; the numerous predators (including us) they evaded—all in the service of returning to the stream they were born to spawn so that their species might continue.
Since then, when I was in my mid-20s, I learned of the cultural and spiritual significance of salmon and steelhead to Native Nations in the Northwest. I had elders tell me about how in the 1950s, before the construction of the four Snake River dams in southeast Washington, there was a two-month fishing season on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho where anglers could keep up to two fish per day. I learned how salmon recycle nutrients from the Pacific Ocean into the nutrient “poor” mountains of Idaho.
Salmon and steelhead—these remarkable creatures of God’s creation, have dwindled to one to two percent of their historic numbers.
I have witnessed so much “WATH” thinking since that day I swam with those steelhead.
What About The Hatcheries? They can hurt wild salmon and steelhead.
What About The Harvest? Certainly, that can hurt salmon and steelhead.
What About The Habitat? It is no longer pristine after years of human development.
These WATHs can be, and often are, true. That said, it is the four lower Snake River dams that are killing our Snake River salmon and steelhead. But do not take my word for it. Here is what the fisheries scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries said in a recent scientific report:
“For Snake River stocks, the centerpiece action is restoring the lower Snake River via dam breaching. Restoring more normalized reach-scale hydrology and hydraulics, and thus river conditions and function in the lower Snake River, require dam breaching. Breaching can address the hydrosystem threat by decreasing travel time for water and juvenile fish, reducing powerhouse encounters, reducing stress on juvenile fish associated with their hydrosystem experience that may contribute to delayed mortality after reaching the ocean, and providing additional rearing and spawning habitat.”
Continue reading at tu.org