The Snake River (Wild Rivers West)

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But the evidence suggests that the Snake is a relative newcomer to this canyon, and that at one time, Hells Canyon waters actually flowed south, not north. In time, the river did find a way to drain massive Lake Idaho through Hells Canyon, and the cutting down through rock commenced in earnest about two million years ago. The Bonneville flood, which occurred about 15, years ago, didn't do much to deepen the river, but it certainly widened it. You can see the effects of that one-time deluge in the broad terraces and the gravel bars, hundreds of feet above the present level of the river.

With each passing year, the Snake is deepening Hells Canyon; but since the dams were installed, it's not doing it nearly as quickly. That's because the dams restrict the abrasive sediments that give water such a potent advantage over rock.

The Snake River

Every rafter knows how quickly a log jam or a new rapid can alter a river, or a well-planned vacation. Today, well over half the salmon caught in western rivers began life in a hatchery, not a natural stream. Many biologists fear that through competition and genetic change, hatcheries may deliver the coup de grace to many wild-spawning salmon populations.

In response to this threat, fisheries biologists have begun to argue that hatcheries should serve not as permanent factories churning out replacements for wild fish, but as short-term bridges to supplement native populations until they can be restored to health. But in a seminal move, the NMFS strongly endorsed the concept of supplementation hatcheries last month in a plan to help restore threatened populations of salmon in the Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia River see Diagram.

Snake River - Wikipedia

The report is now open for public comment, but if adopted it will be the first recovery plan for endangered salmon that commits officials to agree a policy for hatcheries within a strict timetable. Supplementation hatcheries play a role in achieving that objective. Salmon display a complex homing behaviour, determined partly by genes, that takes them back to their natal streams to spawn.

As a result, salmon populations show much tighter genetic tailoring to their local environments than other endangered species such as wolves. Indeed, almost every attempt to transplant wild salmon from one river to another has failed.


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  • According to a study carried out in , at least major salmon populations in Washington, Oregon and California have gone extinct since European settlement, and another are now at risk. Most of the at-risk populations are in trouble because logging and other human activities have destroyed spawning and juvenile rearing habitats. Fishing, too, takes a heavy toll.

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    In , for example, the industry inadvertently caught between 60 and 65 per cent of all adults of the threatened chinook salmon that entered the Snake River that autumn. Young fish dine well at hatcheries, and often live in water that is warmer than that in natural streams.

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    As a result, they tend to be larger than wild fry when released into rivers and outcompete the smaller fish for food and territory, says Reginald Reisenbichler, a population biologist with the National Biological Service in Seattle. And the problems do not end there. Hatchery fish do genetic violence to wild populations as well, says Reisenbichler. Along the way major tributaries including the Buffalo Fork, Gros Ventre, Hoback, and Greys River are included along with a number of smaller tributaries representing a unique watershed approach to Wild and Scenic designation.

    Saving Snake River's wild salmon

    Well over , visitors come to the area each year to boat the Snake River and its tributaries which include some of the nation's most outstanding whitewater resources. American Whitewater has fully participated in these planning processes, especially as they relate to rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks where paddling rivers is prohibited. We filed detailed comments on the draft management plans in , which excluded allowing paddling on Park rivers from the analysis.


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