[env-trinity] Redding.com Editorial: Even if it succeeds, salmon trucking is conservation failure

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Jun 4 15:27:30 PDT 2013


Editorial: Even if it succeeds, salmon trucking is conservation failure
Staff Reports

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A river might look like wild and free-flowing to the untrained eye, but it can still be a glorified zoo.

That’s what the upper Sacramento and McCloud rivers would essentially be if federal fisheries biologists follow through with plans to trap winter-run chinook salmon below Keswick Dam and give them a lift above Lake Shasta to spawn, followed by a return truck trip when the juvenile salmon are ready to migrate downstream.

The plan is still in the conceptual phases and might not even prove feasible, but the scientists are studying it in earnest as a last-ditch effort to avert the extinction of the endangered winter run.

In a sense, the idea is a natural. This increasingly scarce run of salmon needs room to spawn in the cool high-country waters, and Shasta Dam is a massive impenetrable barrier. A ladder or other passage that the fish could travel on their own, such as a “fish swim” using a creek below the dam somehow fed with lake water, is at best far-fetched. So what’s left? Trapping and trucking, which has propped up fish populations on other dammed rivers including the Columbia.

And the winter run might not have much time left. A study released just last week by UC Davis fisheries experts predicted that, over the next century, as many as 80 percent of California’s native fish could go extinct on the current trajectory. Existing stresses are heavy enough, but warming temperatures will devastate fish that rely on cold water, especially salmon and steelhead.

Still, endangered species laws promote the protection of wild species in their native habitats, or what’s left of them. And they’ve occasionally succeeded remarkably — witness the rebound of bald eagles and wolves.

But if the winter-run salmon only persist in the Sacramento thanks to a permanent trap-and-truck program, is it a wild fish anymore? We might preserve the genetic stock, but as a sort of living museum specimen that could no longer survive without our assisted-breeding program.

Maybe that’s the best we can do at this point. Maybe we’ve asked too much of our rivers to allow any viable alternative. But even if the trap-and-truck scheme were to succeed, it’d be hard to see it as any kind of victory for wildlife conservation.

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