Man, weather conspire against salmon

  • Chart on how fish died in 1994

    Diane Sylvain
 

The giant spring runoff that was supposed to safely whisk baby Snake River salmon over dams to the Pacific Ocean has been cut down to size. Mother Nature accomplished part of the feat. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did the rest.

A series of wet winter storms had buoyed the hopes of salmon advocates working for the survival of this year's "class of '95" (HCN, 5/29/95). But while millions of young salmon began their journey to the sea, cool spring weather kept much of the snowpack from melting. Flows on the Snake River, while significantly better than last year, were not high enough that river managers would consistently spill water - and endangered salmon - over the blockade of federal dams.

When water isn't spilled over dams, fish are pulled into the dams' power turbines where their chances of survival are greatly diminished, according to fisheries biologists.

To make matters worse, salmon advocates say the Army Corps, which operates the dams, cut back spill levels at three Lower Snake River dams several times in May, ostensibly to protect fish. The agency said it had to reduce dissolved nitrogen levels in the water below the dams to meet state water quality standards. Too much of the gas in water is deadly to fish.

But fisheries biologists say the Corps killed many more fish sending them through the dams' whirling turbines than they saved trying to reduce the gas caused by turbulent spills.

Monitoring of fish below the dams has shown that nitrogen gas has affected less than 1 percent of the fish sampled by scientists this year. "Dissolved gas is not a problem biologically," says Michelle DeHart, manager of the Fish Passage Center. The center collects biological information for the federal agencies overseeing the hydropower system.

DeHart says the real problem is political, since the Corps is under pressure to maximize power production for the Bonneville Power Administration and its customers, and has no interest in changing its policy of barging salmon around the dams. Spilled water, she adds, does not produce electricity, and spilled fish don't ride on barges.

Charles Ray, an advocate for salmon with Idaho Rivers United, says the Corps reduced spills against the wishes of another federal agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for recovering the endangered salmon. In a letter to Fisheries Service regional director William Stelle, Ray and representatives of two fishing groups wrote: "Are you and NMFS in charge, or is the Army Corps of Engineers the real decision maker for Snake River salmon?"

"It's obvious that the Corps is acting as a free agent," Ray says. "They do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it."

High Country News Classifieds
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • TRUSTEE AND PHILANTHROPY RELATIONS MANGER,
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    -The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region- The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful, complex, diverse,...
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    Position will remain open until January 31, 2021 Join Our Team! The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit land trust organization dedicated to...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...