Outdoors

Lawmakers are bungling salmon issue

There's a lot of time to think while sitting on the banks of the upper Salmon River, way upstream from Stanley.

The silvery ribbon flows through rich, green meadows in the shadow of the snow-capped Sawtooth Mountains.

What a scene. It's still kind of early to see salmon in the river, but they come to mind. After all, it's the Salmon River.

Although the scenery mellows me out, thinking about Idaho's salmon bums me out.

Idaho's sockeye salmon are a hair from extinction. Only one has passed Lower Granite Dam on the way to Redfish Lake so far this summer. Last year only six returned to Redfish Lake. The science gurus even called recently for dumping the captive breeding program.

The recent chinook salmon fishing season was a bust — anglers took about 2,000 fish.

Heck, you couldn't even fish for salmon in the Salmon River near the town of Salmon.

It makes you wonder if current lawmakers care about salmon. Salmon recovery has been stalled by politics for too long, and Idaho salmon anglers, and anyone else who appreciates the magnificent creature, should be going ballistic.

They should be hounding their lawmakers for being dead wood when it comes to promoting fish recovery. There has been talk, talk and more talk about declining salmon runs since the 1970s, when the Snake River dams were completed.

Here it is more than 30 years later, and millions of dollars later.

About 8 to 10 million hatchery salmon smolts are released each year into Idaho rivers; only between 14,000 and 140,000 come back as adults.

Things still don't work, no matter what the unscientific crowd says, and it's time for breaching the lower Snake River dams.

I'm sitting here on the banks of the Salmon River, listening to the flow. That flow goes on freely for 425 miles. The Salmon River is the longest completely free-flowing river in the lower 48 states.

Even though it's free flowing, the river alone can't save its namesake.

That's because salmon have to migrate to the Pacific Ocean from Idaho down the Snake and Columbia rivers, which aren't free flowing. The fish have to run the gantlet of eight dams on the way to the ocean as youngsters and on their return home as adults.

The dams create dead water that slows the downstream migration, increasing the length of their trip to the ocean from 5 to 10 days to 2 to 3 months. It takes a toll on the fish and makes it harder for them to go from freshwater to saltwater.

The hot, slow, stagnant water behind the dams kills young salmon. Warm-water reservoirs are breeding grounds for undesirable fish that prey on young salmon.

Still more young fish are killed passing through the turbines on the dams.

It isn't any easier for the fish on their return journey.

Research shows that salmon returning in the Columbia River to Oregon and Washington, which only have to go through four dams, survive three to four times more than Idaho fish that have to go through a total of eight dams.

The four additional hurdles for Idaho fish are Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Lower Granite.

I'm sitting on the banks of this beautiful river just wondering how long lawmakers can keep stalling true salmon recovery.

Way back in 1998, a panel of independent scientists concluded that removing the Snake River dams would offer an 80 to 100 percent chance of restoring wild Snake River salmon and steelhead.

History proved it. Sunbeam Dam on the Salmon River was removed in 1934 and it resulted in an immediate return of wild salmon and steelhead to the river in the Stanley area.

Then the dams were built on the Snake River in the 1960s and 1970s, and salmon runs were clobbered again.

Scientists have said that if the Snake River dams aren't removed, Idaho's remaining wild salmon and steelhead runs will go extinct.

Look at the sockeye and the news this summer.

You've got to find hope in the bumper sticker: "I'm pro salmon, and I vote."

Heads up on Deer

What a waste: Dead deer on the shoulder of the highways.

Deer and highways make big news in the winter, when the critters are close to town and a number are hit on Hill Road or Warm Springs Avenue.

But they still are being killed in the summer. You've got to slow down and keep your eyes open, especially early in the morning and late in the evening.

We get complacent during the summer months, but you still have to drive on deer alert, as if deer are going to jump out at any moment.

I saw three dead deer along Idaho 55 in a 2-mile stretch on Horseshoe Bend Hill last week.

The topper was a dead doe near the Franklin Exit on the Connector.

How the heck did a deer get out there by the mall?

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