For the Express
In 2005, six sockeye returned to Redfish Lake in Central Idaho.
This year, a total of five fish are expected to return to Redfish—the lake that old timers say used to appear crimson from so many spawning fish coming home.
Five sockeye is dangerously close to zero sockeye.
I have a special place in my heart for Redfish Lake, the Salmon River, and the recreational opportunities that these amazing places provide. And I am not willing to stand by and watch as Idaho's mighty red fish go extinct.
That is why I'm making the journey of a lifetime for salmon. On Aug. 6, I begin a 40-day kayaking journey down the Salmon, Snake and Columbia rivers. My hope is to meet Idahoans and Northwesterners who can join me in a region-wide effort to openly and honestly resolve our salmon crisis.
And it is a crisis.
Upward of 90 percent of all Idaho's out-migrating salmon are killed by dams. As Idaho's sockeye are battling their way upstream to spawn, I'll be paddling downstream and facing similar obstacles that juvenile salmon encounter on their way to the Pacific Ocean. I'll have to navigate through slackwater reservoirs and through or around eight salmon-killing dams on the Columbia and Snake River systems.
The biggest problems for Idaho's fish are the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington. After these dams were finished in 1975, Idaho's salmon populations plummeted rapidly toward extinction.
Although my outlook for surviving this trip is much brighter than a young sockeye's might be, I hope I can help illustrate how treacherous these lower Snake River dams are for Idaho's fish. Without a long-term plan to restore Snake River habitat, the prognosis for the majestic sockeye is grim, and other Pacific Northwest salmon could soon follow them to the grave.
Fortunately, there is a solution that will work for sockeye and other Columbia Basin salmon, and Northwest communities and people—restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River.
The science is clear: Improving salmon survival past the downstream dams is the only way to stop the extinction of Idaho's anadromous fish. But time is running out, especially for our sockeye.
What the sockeye need is real leadership from elected officials in the Northwest and across the country, leadership to a real course to salmon recovery. Our salmon need a plan that looks at all scientifically sound and economically viable recovery solutions, including more water for the river and removal of the four lower Snake River dams.
There is no debate that the lower Snake dams are destroying salmon—not just sockeye but chinook as well—which are vital to the balance of nature in the Pacific Northwest. The damage caused by these dams has long outweighed the benefits.
In the end, we have a responsibility not only to restore salmon, but to protect and enhance the Northwest way of life, which includes an abundant salmon population, good fishing, stable jobs, reliable energy and places in the outdoors for our families to enjoy.
Removing the four dams on the lower Snake River is the only way to get us there.
Please join me, not only for the launch of my trip, but in calling for a better future for Idaho. A future without red fish in Redfish Lake, or a future without salmon in the Salmon River, is not one I want to imagine. With energy, action and leadership, we can bring our salmon back.
Bill Erickson has been a river guide for OARS-Dories for seven years. His trip will launch Sunday, Aug. 6, at 11:30 a.m. at old Sunbeam dam, 11 miles east of Stanley on state Highway 75.