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Salmon Spawning for the First Time in 80 Years in the Upper Columbia River

Tribal biologists have confirmed that Chinook salmon and rainbow trout are spawning in the upper Columbia River system in Washington state for the first time in 80 years.

Dan Cook / USFWS

The discovery of 36 “redds” (where a female salmon lays her eggs) along an excellent eight-mile spawning stretch of a tributary of the Columbia called the Sanpoil River confirmed the suspicions of the Colville tribe.

It is the culmination of decades of dreams and years of work, which can be heard in the words of Crystal Conant, a member of the Colville tribe of the Arrow Lakes and SanPoil bands, when he spoke with Eli Francovich on Spokesman.

“At first I was surprised, then I was filled with total joy … I don’t know if I have the right words to explain happiness and healing,” he said.

the Confederate Tribes of the Colville System have been planning and researching how it would be possible to restore salmon populations to river systems above two dams built in the 1930s and 1950s that prevented fish from reaching the highest levels of the river system to spawn, as they had done. for generations.

It’s been a long time coming (home)

Grand Coulee Dam, US Bureau of Reclamation

By preventing salmon from returning to the upper reaches of the Sanpoil River, many of the tribes were unable to carrying out fundamental practices of their culture, including “salmon songs” calling for fish to return from the ocean, and spearfishing around Kettle Falls, over which the river teetered and churned as it battled against the quartz rocks.

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The Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams do not include fish ladders, so in August the Colville tribes released 100 salmon 35 miles upstream from the two dams in an attempt to see if they would survive and spawn.

They equipped the fish with electronic trackers so they could observe their movements. During the summer and fall, contrary to some predictions that the fish would just get up and go, hatchery-born salmon spread out and began to spawn.

But of course, the biggest challenge for an otherwise superbly plausible restoration effort is whether the small salmon can cross the Columbia River reservoir created by the dam, get through the hydroelectric infrastructure, get out to sea, eat, grow, and come back again. .

As one of the most arduous and impressive migration patterns in nature, it is difficult to survive in the best of cases, but it is unknown if the obstacles built by humans make it impossible.

Their survival also depends on the number of aggressive and invasive northern pike that can be removed from the river and reservoir, as they would feed on the salmon species. Only after these survival concerns are alleviated will tribes begin to investigate the potential costs of passages through the dams.

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According to another report According to public radio, it could be 10 to 15 years before the feasibility studies of the big picture of the tribes are concluded, as they would have to watch the coming and going of salmon as they spend years at sea.

But the wait will be worth it if the fish can return, as they are the cornerstone of the Colville tribal culture.

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“Our ancestors prayed that our salmon would one day return to Upper Columbia,” Colville Business Council Chairman Rodney Cawston said in a statement. “With all the prayers that were made historically and today, combined with all the efforts of our fishing staff, our leaders, and many others joining in this effort, we can bring our fish home.”

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