Global Warming Heats Up Urgency of Salmon Recovery Efforts

New Scientific Report on Columbia Basin Warns of Changes; Offers Solutions

03-27-2008 // NWF Media Team

PORTLAND, OR -- Federal efforts to recover endangered salmon on the Columbia and Snake rivers can no longer ignore global warming, which already has fundamentally changed the river and ocean habitats of salmon and steelhead, warns a new scientific review released today.

The report, A Great Wave Rising, by former chief of fisheries for the state of Oregon Jim Martin and National Wildlife Federation global warming expert Patty Glick, is the latest to reaffirm that global warming's effects are underway with worse changes to come. It is the first to offer federal managers a set of strategic global warming solutions necessary for the recovery of endangered Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead and the communities and industries that depend on them.

Those solutions, or any meaningful accounting of climate change, have been missing from federal plans to date. The authors, labeling global warming an "overarching threat" to salmon survival, call for the recommended solutions to be incorporated immediately into federal recovery efforts.

"Neither salmon, the icons of the Northwest, nor the communities and industries that depend upon them can afford to wait any longer for real action," said Martin, who led Oregon's salmon recovery efforts under Governor John Kitzhaber earlier this decade, and serves as an advisor to fishing business and conservation groups. "We have entered the age of global warming and any legal and effective federal recovery effort must include global warming solutions."

"Salmon are exceptionally resilient and flexible, and they will need all that resilience to survive global warming. We offer a scientifically robust strategy that has so far been missing in federal actions," said report co-author Patty Glick, senior policy specialist with the National Wildlife Federation. "Solutions are not only available; they can and must be implemented now."

Their findings are being released a month before federal agencies' expected May 5th unveiling of yet another court-ordered plan to recover endangered Columbia basin salmon and steelhead. The federal plan--called a Biological Opinion or BiOp -- will guide salmon recovery efforts in the seven-state Columbia and Snake river basin for the next decade. Three previous BiOps were ruled illegal for failing to comply with the Endangered Species Act.A Great Wave Rising's findings, based on a thorough review of the scientific record:

* Reaffirm that human-caused warming already has created hotter waters that are dangerous for the cold-water fish, altered snow and rain patterns in the Columbia and Snake river basin that affect migration, and changed ocean and estuary conditions vital for salmon to find sufficient food for survival before return migrations. These conditions are projected to worsen.
* Show how global warming will harm salmon and steelhead at each stage of their life cycle, exacerbating other conditions that have led to the species' threatened or endangered status.
* Demonstrate that this new threat has joined dams, development, hatcheries and harvests as a fundamental factor in the health and survival of Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead.
* Show that ample scientific analysis already exists to craft a strategy for salmon survival in the age of global warming.

The report identifies three principles to incorporate into Columbia Basin salmon recovery that are global warming specific: reconnect salmon to high headwater habitats; protect healthy flows and cool waters in headwater areas; and reduce human-caused mortalities to adult and especially to juvenile salmon in the main stems of the Columbia and Snake rivers. The report recommends eight detailed actions based on these principles, including:

* Reconnect salmon to the best headwaters habitat. Headwater habitats will warm the least and retain the most snow - especially above 4,000 feet. These spawning and rearing habitats become anchors for salmon recovery in a warming period. For instance,removing the four lower Snake River dams, which scientists have already identified as the surest and perhaps only way to restore endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead, becomes more urgent with global warming since it will greatly boost the numbers and diversity of fish able to reach the highest, coldest, largest, healthiest, and best-protected salmon habitat left outside of Alaska.
* Eliminate or bypass other barriers. Speed work to re-establish salmon passage above other dams that block salmon migration. For instance, Portland General Electric's creative project on the Clackamas River should be replicated elsewhere, and salmon passage should be required in the new license for Idaho Power Co.'s Hells Canyon dams.
* Ensure maximum salmon survival on the mainstems of the Columbia and Snake rivers. The very large mortalities that now afflict salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers must be greatly reduced. Actions range from removing the four lower Snake River dams to improving flows and spill at the Columbia River dams. Since, in the short term, many impacts of global warming on salmon cannot be controlled, managers must aggressively reduce the impacts that are controllable such as mortalities caused by the dam system.
* Keep low-elevation rivers as cool and clean as possible for salmon as they migrate. This requires re-invigorating enforcement of the Clean Water Act, which has badly languished the past decade - so that, for instance, pollution-caused "hot spots" in the basin's rivers are eliminated as quickly as possible.
* Curb greenhouse gas emissions with federal leadership that includes strong national legislation. If global warming continues unabated, any success helping salmon bridge near-term warming will eventually be swamped by more intense warming.

Related Resources
  • Supporting Document
    A Great Wave Rising (pdf)

    Solutions for columbia and snake river salmon in the age of global warming.