Defenders of good ocean conditions are not enough to recover salmon / Public News Service

Recent data on ocean conditions could be good news for struggling salmon in the Northwest. But species advocates warn that this is not enough to stop their alarming slide.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects ocean waters to remain cold and more food for fish along the west coast. However, Columbia Riverkeeper senior counsel Miles Johnson noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean better conditions for a crucial part of their lives – in the rivers where salmon spawn.

“It’s good to be in a good cycle,” Johnson said. “But what it is is an opportunity to fix the issues we have in freshwater and kick-start some kind of recovery. It’s not going to get us out of the hole we’re in.”

Climate change is another factor. A recent study by Columbia University’s Earth Institute shows that land temperatures are rising 2.5 times faster than ocean temperatures, meaning that wildlife in land and river systems are more vulnerable to global warming.

Johnson said the biggest obstacles for endangered salmon species are the four dams on the lower Snake River. He said the dams were turning the river into dangerously hot lakes for migrating fish, and the quickest and most effective way to fix that was to breach them.

“It’s not something we got to quickly or recklessly,” Johnson said. “That’s the conclusion that most of the scientific community has come to after trying pretty much everything else. It’s clear that Snake River fish aren’t going to recover with these four dams in place.”

Opponents of removing the dams say they provide irrigation, renewable energy and transportation to the region.

Johnson said the ocean will go through cycles of good and bad years for salmon and that we should act to save them from extinction as long as conditions are right.

“And they’ll get over it if we give them half a chance,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen it over and over again in different settings.”

Disclosure: Columbia Riverkeeper contributes to our fund for endangered species and wildlife, environmental, water reporting. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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