NOAA Report Finds Lower Snake River Dam Breaching as “Centerpiece Action” for Salmon Recovery

Published 10/13/2022  |  Idaho Rivers United

Data from NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its final edition of the Rebuilding Salmon report last week that acts as a roadmap towards achieving regionally-established salmon recovery goals by 2050. The report compiles information on the status of wild, interior Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead populations (or “stocks”), threats and challenges posed to stock recovery, and actions fisheries managers must take now to reverse downward trends to meet recovery goals.

Much of the information in the NOAA report draws on the work of the Columbia Basin Partnership (CBP), a collaborative chartered by NOAA with members representing states, tribes, and river stakeholders that culminated in a 2020 report. In this report, low, middle, and high range abundance goals were established. The low-range goals align with Endangered Species Act delisting objectives, while mid and high-range goals recognize the need to go beyond ESA requirements in order to achieve healthy and harvestable salmon populations.

Throughout NOAA’s report, urgency and “an act now” message for salmon recovery are conveyed due to the pervasive, negative impacts of climate change across riverine and ocean salmon habitat and the current, extremely low abundance levels of Columbia Basin salmon populations, many of which are declining towards extinction.

NOAA acknowledges that a suite of actions, including dam breaching, predator management, restoration work in tributary and estuary habitat, blocked area reintroductions, and hatchery/harvest reform, will be necessary for salmon recovery across the Basin.

However, for wild Snake River stocks (spring/summer run Chinook, steelhead, and sockeye) that spawn in the high-quality, coldwater habitat of central Idaho and eastern Oregon, removal of the Lower Snake River Dams (LSRDs) was identified in the report as the “centerpiece” recovery action.

The report also reiterates what previous analyses have found: LSRD removal would result in the highest increase in Snake River salmon survival out of the available management options.

It is the survival through the eight dam-reservoir hydrosystem on the Columbia-Snake Rivers that is the primary bottleneck for wild Idaho salmon recovery. Without LSRD breaching, the benefits from other management actions are left unfulfilled, the effects of climate change are exacerbated on vulnerable and low-abundance salmon runs, and the returns on decades of taxpayer investment ($18 billion and counting) are unrealized.

In order to reach the mid-range goals by 2050 for salmon abundance, large-scale actions laid out by NOAA need to occur in the near-term. In the case of LSRD removal, funding replacement services tied to the dams – clean, reliable energy development, and replacing river barging with rail service while maintaining competitive, affordable shipping rates for farmers – is the first step.

These needed funds are readily available through the Congressionally-passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, thanks to the pause on long running litigation surrounding salmon recovery, the Biden Administration now has the opportunity to identify funding sources and, alongside Northwest Congressional leaders, to create a roadmap for the region to transition away from the LSRDs and towards a future where dam breaching is a foregone conclusion.

Pressure from salmon advocates on elected leaders and the Administration is critical in the next year. The funding and the means of replacing services of the LSRDs are in front of us. It will now take a coordinated, overwhelming push from Northwest citizens, tribes, and conservation groups to ensure that the region is prepared for the next step of Lower Snake River dam removal. Wild salmon and steelhead, and the countless human and animal communities that rely on them, cannot afford to wait.

This post originally appeared on News – Idaho Rivers United.

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