“Report: Restoration Efforts in Columbia Basin Working,” in the March 6 Statesman, says the feds have helped salmon and steelhead by improving habitat and dam passage. By lumping all salmon and steelhead, the feds have claimed a three-fold increase in adult returns since the 1990s at Bonneville Dam, obscuring effects of the federal hydropower system on the 13 wild groups of fish that led to listing under the Endangered Species Act.
Parsing species, I have found that spring/summer chinook in the Middle Fork Salmon River (an excellent indicator of abundance of wild fish) have declined in Columbia River returns by 80 percent from the late 1960s, before the effects of the lower Snake dams kicked in. Survival of smolts through the federal dam system is less than 50 percent from Lewiston to Bonneville tailrace, and many thousands of summer-migrating adult salmon have died in warm-water years. Recent wild steelhead runs have been extremely poor.
The restoration report from the agencies touts habitat measures in tributaries, but no such measures will benefit wild salmon in places like the Middle Fork Salmon and Chamberlain Creek. Removal of the lower four Snake dams offers the best tool for run improvement for ESA-listed wild fish.
Don Chapman, McCall