Letters To The Editor - Fish survival past dams over 95 percent


Reed Burkholder claims that removing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers is the way to restore Idaho's salmon runs. I recently listed a multitude of dams in Idaho that carved off chunks of salmon habitat and wiped out segments of Idaho's salmon runs.

Mr. Burkholder said "...The dam-building frenzy in Idaho of our forefathers is irrelevant to these runs ..." He added, "These runs have one primary reason for poor health ..." is the Corps' dams. When he was young there were ample salmon in the South Fork and the main Salmon River.

I don't know when Burkholder was young, but I do know that of the estimated 12 million to 16 million salmon and steelhead returning to the Columbia River before white men began altering the river and reaping the seemingly inexhaustible runs of salmon only 471,144 salmon crossed Bonneville Dam in 1938. Prodigious overharvest from the 1860s through the 1970s and loss of spawning habitat reduced the salmon runs over 95 percent before the first Corps' dam was built.

Less than half, and in some years less that 10 percent, of the fish crossing Bonneville Dam go up the Snake River toward Idaho. From 1938 to 1999, counts over Bonneville dam exceeded 1 million fish only in 1985 and 1986.

Since 2000, counts have averaged over 1.4 million salmon and reached nearly 2 million in 2001 and 2010. Snake River runs have averaged over 333,000 for the past 10 years, up from a low of 37,474 in 1979. The count of sockeye, the only endangered salmon in the Snake Basin, increased from zero in 1994 to over 1500 in 2011.

In the 1970s, University of Idaho scientists reported siltation of spawning areas by agricultural and logging activities were the main causes of decline of South Fork Salmon River salmon runs. Sunbeam Dam blocked Salmon River sockeye runs for 17 years.

In the mid 1900s, Idaho Department of Fish and Games poisoned the Stanley Basin lakes to manage them for cutthroat trout, then relented and imported sockeye salmon from British Columbia to try to restore them. He may not believe the facts, but they are public information.

Juvenile chinook salmon and steelhead survival past each Corps' dam is now over 95 percent and adult survival is over 99 percent. Burkholder wants the public to focus on the Corps' dams so they won't see the truth through the smoke.

John McKern
Walla Walla


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