BOISE, Idaho -- The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society said Monday the lower Snake River dams must be breached if wild runs of salmon and steelhead are to be saved and restored to fishable numbers.
The organization of fisheries professionals first endorsed breaching 12 years ago. President-elect Dave Ward of Portland, Ore., said members wanted to revisit the issue prior to a court decision on the fate of the federal government's plan to balance the needs of protected fish with the operation of dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.
The plan does not call for breaching, but a provision calls for dam removal to be studied if the runs decline far below current numbers.
"We are just letting the parties and the judge know a large group of independent scientists feel a certain way based on the best available science," said Ward, who works for the Columbia River Fish and Wildlife Authority. "I don't hold strong hope it will actually affect the judge's decision but I think it's another piece of information available."
Federal Judge James Redden conducted a hearing on the salmon-and-dams plan last month and is expected to issue a ruling this summer. Redden has twice overturned the government's plan known as a biological opinion.
The plan calls for a number of actions including improvements to the hydropower system and fish habitat as well as hatchery and harvest reform. The fisheries society previously approved resolutions judging the government's plan to be insufficient to protect and recover the runs.
The resolution, that also lists Pacific lamprey and white sturgeon as beneficiaries of breaching, passed by an 86.4 percent margin. It says hatcheries that have produced fishable returns of unprotected salmon and steelhead for the past decade are dependent on wild fish for genetic diversity and that recent ocean and river flow conditions that have led to abundant hatchery returns doesn't mean wild fish are recovered.
"Despite recent years of relatively large runs of some salmon and steelhead populations, and good flow and ocean conditions, it is prudent to expect a repeat of extended periods of smaller runs, and poor flow and ocean conditions, coupled with continued gradual warming of water temperatures," they said.
Don Chapman, of McCall and a former University of Idaho fisheries professor and a consultant to the shipping and hydropower industries, Indian tribes and management agencies, said a warming climate makes breaching necessary.
"This resolution simply tells it like it is from the science perspective: if we want to save Snake River salmon as habitats warm, we have to remove the four lower Snake River dams. There is just no evading that reality," he said.
To see more of the Lewiston Tribune, www.lmtribune.com.
(c) 2011, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.