The Lewiston Tribune has previously published several of my columns against dam breaching. I had hoped that wiser heads would prevail and the idea would be tossed onto the trash heap of history. But it doesn’t seem to be happening, so here we go again.
Many of the facts and figures on the fish and dam issue that I am presenting were put together by my good friend, Rusty Bentz.
Bentz is a noted local fishing outfitter and guide. His knowledge of fish survival and the dam breaching issue comes from decades of experience and a passion for what he does.
The fish numbers and facts that he gleaned from “Columbia River Steelhead Runs. 80 years of Ladder Counts,” “Bonneville Dam; 83-years of spring chinook counts” and technical information that he presents completely upend the idea that the dams are killing our anadromous fish runs.
Using the fish numbers that Bentz gathered, my good friend Charlie Pottenger developed an excellent graph that shows how fish populations on the Columbia and the Snake rivers were stable from the year 1938 until the year 2000 and then their numbers skyrocketed.
If you want to see Pottenger’s graph and learn more about the misconceptions of dam breaching, go to our YouTube channel or Facebook page and search: Citizens for the Preservation of Fish and Dams.
Marilynn Scharnhorst, our technical expert, did an excellent job of setting up the sites.
The dam breaching advocates like to blame the low numbers of fish returning to the Snake River on the four lower Snake River dams. But the last of the four was finished in 1975. That’s 25 years before record runs of fish returned to the Columbia River.
From 1938, when Bonneville Dam was finished, through 1947, a yearly average of 189,522 steelhead and spring chinook salmon crossed the dam. The number of returning fish then remained about the same until the year 2001.
Then, nearly 8.2 million fish were counted at Bonneville Dam from 2001-15. That is an average of 544,481 fish per year; a 340% increase over earlier fish returns. In each of the years 2001 as well as 2009 (but not the period in between), more than 600,000 adult steelhead crossed Bonneville Dam. And at times, we had catch-andkeep limits of four fish a day on both salmon and steelhead.
The dam breachers are at a loss when confronted with these facts.
The huge fish runs from 2001-15 came despite:
- The loss of thousands of miles of spawning habitat from Dworshak and Hells Canyon dams.
- A huge sports fishery that didn’t exist in the early years.
- Seals and sea lions that now kill about 40% of the returning fish.
- Caspian terns and cormorants on East Sand Island, a man-made island in the estuary of the Columbia River, have killed hundreds of millions of juvenile fish between 1984 and 2020. In the last few years, I have noticed a large influx of these and other predatory birds into our area.
- The 1974 Boldt decision allotted one-half of anadromous fish runs to Native Americans. Since then, hundreds of gill nets catch huge numbers of fish each year. I fully support the rights of Native Americans to harvest the fish, but they should find another way to do so. Gill nets catch all the big fish. After decades of killing all the big fish and with only small fish reproducing, you will eventually only have small fish.
- Bass and walleye numbers have exploded. They are ferocious predators and kill huge numbers of juvenile fish.
Salmon and steelhead spend most of their lives in the ocean where vast fleets of ships from countries all around the world target them for harvest.
Ever-changing ocean conditions determine whether the fish will have an abundant food supply during their life cycle or whether they will starve to death. Also, in recent years the Earth has warmed as part of its natural cycles. This has brought a multitude of warm water predators into the natural range of salmon and steelhead migration, further depleting their numbers.
But environmentalists completely ignore these facts and instead focus on the four lower Snake River dams because their true goal is to tear out the dams and the fish are the tool they are using to justify the destruction of our dams.
Undammed streams along the west coast of the United States and Canada, such as the Kenai, Yukon and Fraser rivers, and other salmon-bearing streams around the world are experiencing the same diminishing fish runs as the Snake River.
In the 1990s, I was heavily involved in the fight against environmental extremists. They were shutting down lumber and paper mills across the U.S. Whole communities were devastated. Their people were forced to move elsewhere to get jobs. Now our forests burn from the lack of management.
I belonged to several organizations that were in the fight to save these communities. At almost every meeting, someone would share the story of how their mill went down.
The stories were all the same: “We tried to tell them what was happening, but no one would listen.”
Then the days after the closing were followed by scores of people asking: “What can we do to save our mill?”
But it was too late. The mill was gone.
I see the same scenario playing out in our community. Losing the dams would devastate our community. Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic activity would be lost.
We will definitely lose our ports and cruise ships. And we could lose our paper mill because of effluent discharge problems. People need to wake up and get involved before this happens to us.
Please join us, Citizens for the Preservation of Fish and Dams on Facebook and YouTube. Help us stop this travesty.
Dugger retired as a journeyman carpenter from Clearwater Paper. He lives in Lewiston.