Kayaking The Salmon River From Source To Sea: How This RSJ Alum Is Fighting Imminent Salmon Extinction

By Brooke Hess

Four Dams, Three Women, One River

Reynolds School of Journalism alum Brooke Hess (a science writer and kayaker) has just begun a more than 1,000-mile river journey. Brooke and two other women will travel by kayak, raft, packraft, and skis, the length of the Salmon River from it’s source all the way to the sea.

Their goal: to advocate for the removal of the four Lower Snake River Dams in an effort to save the rapidly dwindling Snake River Basin salmon populations from extinction.

Since the four dams were installed in the 1960s, there has been a precipitous decline in salmon populations, as well as other fish.

This is a map that shows the locations of the Stibnite Gold Mine and the Four Lower Snake River Dams. The Stibnite Gold Project is in Idaho at the headwaters of the East Fork South Fork Salmon River, near Yellowpine, Idaho. The four Lower Snake River Dams are in Washington on the Snake River.
The four Lower Snake River Dams create massive obstacles for salmon returning to their spawning grounds, and increase water temperature in the river, which kills salmon. The Stibnite Gold Project will destroy critical spawning habitat for Snake River Basin salmon populations, further increasing salmon mortality and reducing their chance at survival.
A river with lots of whitewater rapids carves its way through granite cliffs and mountains.
The South Fork Salmon River is threatened by the proposed Stibnite Gold Project, which will reopen and expand a gold mine at the headwaters of the East Fork South Fork Salmon, destroying critical spawning habitat for Snake River Basin salmon populations. Photo: Andrew Dunning.

Salmon in Peril

Snake River Basin Chinook salmon and sockeye salmon are both anadromous fish species, meaning they hatch in the cold freshwater streams of Idaho, migrate to the saltwater of the Pacific Ocean where they spend the majority of their lives, then travel back to the freshwater streams in Idaho three to five years later to spawn (reproduce). Historically, both species have returned to spawn in Idaho in mass numbers each year, but recent population declines have both species fighting against extinction.

Two Chinook salmon swim in a river with their mouths wide open. The photo is so close to the fish that you can see the details of their eyes and fins.
The recovery goal for Snake River Basin Chinook salmon is to reach 127,000 wild adult salmon returning to Idaho each year to spawn. This year there were around 7,000.

Scientists point to the four dams on the Lower Snake River as the culprits causing the declines in salmon populations. Conservationists are urging politicians to breach the dams, pointing out that it is the only way to save the Snake River Basin salmon populations from extinction.

To read Brooke’s article on the Snake River Basin salmon populations, the threats posed to them, and the proposed solution, click here. To follow the three women on their river journey, visit https://salmonsourcetosea.com.

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