Anyone who reads this blog knows I love math. Math is our only objective truth, everything else is subject to subjective argument. Oh wait, what's that? Just a minute Salmon Nation, I am receiving a message from the netherworld from Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, and he is saying something about "lies, damned lies and statistics."
Anyway, I love math and we need to get back to talking about numbers. That's right, we are going straight back to the core narrative, the reason we must knock down four dams on the lower Snake River. Yes, Christmas did come early this year for people who love math. Quickly, go to freethesnake.com and register and show up on Oct. 3 in a boat for the flotilla.
Quick fact, how do we get the various listed salmonids off the endangered species list? Ding! Ding! Ding! Yes, we get each population to have a smolt to adult return rate (SAR) of somewhere in the 2-6 percent range for a period of eight years. Yes, I know that is not entirely accurate but the reason it is not entirely accurate is due to NOAA never actually getting around to defining recovery for a number of the listed salmonids. Well, you know they are too busy losing lawsuits in federal court along with Larry, Curly and Moe, I mean the Inaction Agencies, or as some call them erroneously the action agencies (Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers). Have we gotten close in the years since Lonesome Larry, that media darling, came back to Redfish Lake to find all the lady folk had died? Answer would be ah, hell no! Or no for those of you who choose a more civilized response, though you'd probably wish I spelled civilised with an s instead of that z those uncultured Americans are so fond of.
When you think of SAR think 1 percent or lower, well, actually think about 0.5 percent and you'd be in the zone pretty much every year since Bill Clinton told us to not stop thinking about tomorrow. Anyone remember Al and Tipper dancing that night? Alright, yesterday is gone. Couldn't help myself.
I know that when I intermix facts with obscure Dennis Miller type references to an inauguration party in the early 90s, I am probably losing many of you. However, I am doing a bang-up job putting this in the proper context, you see? When Lonesome Larry showed up at Redfish Lake on August 4, 1992, Americans were thinking about Clinton and Bush (Perot had just dropped out of the race in July, he would reappear in October effectively sealing his candidacy's fate as spoiler without a chance). Clinton and the Democrats had held their convention in July and George H.W. Bush (though back then we just called him George) and the Republicans were to hold their convention two weeks after Lonesome Larry showed up and wondered where all the women were. And for those of you not too quick on the uptake, I just wanted to point out that Lonesome Larry the first sockeye to return to Redfish Lake after they were listed as endangered arrived in the final year of the last one-term president this nation has had. Bush finished up his one term, handed the keys to Clinton for his two terms (eight years in case you didn't know), then he handed the keys (well not all the keyboard keys, especially not the W's) to George W. Bush and he was there eight years and he handed the keys to Barrack Obama and he is in his seventh year in office. I think they now have the context firmly in hand.
Alright, now another sticking point with me. I'm an American and dammit, we went to the moon! We didn't just go to the moon and say well, been there done that. No, we went to the moon so many times the citizens got bored with it. Seriously, how do you ever get bored going to another celestial body? Yet, we Americans, we did that! We went to the moon so many times that we were all like, "yeah, whatever, moon and back, blah, blah, blah. Do you think Nixon will have a wonderful second term? Are they going to pull our combat troops out of Vietnam?" Yes, that is what we were thinking in December of 1972. Anyway, I've always had this "America is great" narrative being told to me. "Well, ask the Nazis who their daddy is?" You know the story, we kicked some Nazi butt, whipped those instigating Japanese. We went to the moon. Told that Mr. Gorbachev to tear down a wall and basically he did, though I don't remember the part where he swung a sledge hammer. So this whole America is great narrative is running through my brain. Holy crap, one sockeye returns to Redfish Lake, oh wait, we're Americans. We got this. Dude, we went to the moon and got bored with it. We beat up them Nazis and Japanese and now we are all like bros. We can solve this salmon thing. Heck, we'll find the problem and deal with it just like Americans do. You know, can do spirit.
Well, it didn't go down that way. Apparently, we got pretty mediocre there. We kind of stagnated a bit. We came to a point where we, for some reason or another, liked to have problems fester because, for some reason, voters seemed to be more likely to vote if a problem festered and wasn't solved rather than remember somebody solved something. I blame TV and the continual erosion of our collective attention span, but this is not my journalism studies at Murray State (which coincidentally coincided with Lonesome Larry, Clinton, Bush and Perot and walls coming down). I mean, look at Winston Churchill (yes, I know he wasn't an American), he was kind of the George Washington of the whole theory of "let's start kickin' Nazi butt," and when it looked like the Nazis' butts were whipped, he was run out of office over there in Great Britain. Apparently, he forgot that his job depended largely on there being a horrific threat looming over the free world. So, obviously, we Americans could no longer go with the ole model of solving problems, we now had to mitigate for them and do a poor job of it. So, that's what we did, at least in the salmon wars. Well, pretty much everywhere, but I'm only interested in the salmon wars for the purposes of this blog.
Gosh, I scared you with math and then blind-sided you with a bunch of history. OK, I'll get to the math...nerds.
SARS, 2-6 percent every year for eight years and the government can be as happy and cheerful as they were today when they announced that losing half the sage grouse in the United States was no cause for alarm. (I'm taking a bow now, I do hope you are clapping, my environmentalist friends).
Where are we in the progress department? See, this is a question you should ask. You really should ask this question like everyday. Well, we dump more than 141 million hatchery salmonid smolts into the Columbia/Snake river basins each year and (drum roll please). No, wait, stop, who cares about hatchery fish? They don't count toward delisting, they are a ruse, a red herring (well, now I've gone and confused them all). We dump more than 141 million salmonid smolts in the Columbia/Snake river basins each year and then we count the adult returns at all the dams and at the first dam (giving the government efforts the benefit of the doubt) we see in 2014 (when we don't factor in wild smolts into the equation) we see 2,704,958 returning salmonids through Bonneville Dam. OK, hey you do the math and if you give the government all the benefits of doubt and divide that adult return number by 141 million hatchery smolts, well, we almost got to the two percent threshold. We failed to get there, but we were close. For those of you troubled by math, the math works out to 1.9 percent in 2014 if you completely ignore the wild smolt numbers in your divider.
So, if we wanted to just look at hatchery smolts, like the government wants to do, then we must subtract 20 percent from the adult return number. Twenty percent has been about the average of the wild salmonids in the annual returns. When we do that we get 2,163,966 million returning hatchery fish in the Columbia/Snake river basin in 2014 and that now comes out to a 1.5 percent SAR. Last year was a comparatively good year in these non-salad days for salmon returns. We had, relatively speaking, high fall chinook returns, good enough for a fishery coho returns and sockeye had more than 600,000 returners.
Let's not rely on averages. The Bonneville Power Administration are masters at writing about misleading trends. They will tell you that Snake River sockeye, Lonesome Larry's ilk, are on an upward trend and by the language they use you would think that recovery is right around the corner. Here, allow me to quote from one of their publications, in case you don't believe me.
"Today, returns are steadily increasing with 650 adult sockeye salmon returning in 2008, 883 in 2009 and more than 1,800 in 2010," that's from a BPA publication in September 2010 titled, "Columbia River Hatcheries: an evolving role."
Anyone care to see how many sockeye returned to Idaho via the river this year? Hmmm, well that's a paltry number. Yes, they did go by truck this year and it wasn't a very large number at all. The number was 44 by river just about 10 days ago. Anyway, it was a bad year river temperature and flow-wise. Anomalies aside, the whole point of recovery or species survival really hinges on that species' ability to survive such non-mean years (Pun intended).
OK, let's look at the 10-year average (2005-2014 because 2015 isn't done yet). Here are the gross numbers...
Chinook adults through Bonneville Dam (that's the first dam) 6,698,514 total for a 10-year average of 669,851.
Chinook jacks through Bonneville Dam: 1,214,604 total for a 10-year average of 121,460
Hatchery steelhead through Bonneville Dam 3,524,304 total for a 10-year average of 352,430
Wild steelhead through Bonneville Dam 1,134,811 total for a 10-year average of 113,481
Sockeye through Bonneville Dam 2,413,521 total for a 10-year average of 241,352 (most of those not headed for Idaho)
Coho through Bonneville Dam 1,302,745 total for a 10-year average of 130,275
Jack Coho through Bonneville Dam 76,525 total for a 10-year average of 7,653
So the total adult and jack returns through Bonneville Dam for the years 2005-2014 were 16,365,024 for a 10-year average of 1,636,502.
Well, let's compare the 10-year total number to the historical 10-16 million annual Columbia/Snake fish runs before we came in and built hundreds of hatcheries and several dams. It took us 10 year to top what used to be the normal wild salmonid returns in the Columbia/Snake. Has that sunk in yet?
If it has or hasn't, we need to move onto the SARs. So, in 10 years we had 16,365,024 salmonids return and in that time period we released some 1.41 billion salmonid smolts. What is the average smolt to adult return rate Salmon Nation? Yes, I'm asking you to do the math. Alright, I'll do the math, that's a 1.16 percent SAR. That's roughly 58 percent of the bottom line. Donald Trump would call that effort a loser. Not that I care how he would frame anything, but since the masses seem to choose him in the polls I thought I'd drop that line in there.
Let's ruminate on that for a moment. No, not Donald Trump's candidacy, the fact that these past 10 years we are 42 percent below the bottom threshhold of restoring these fish. And that is if I break the law and count hatchery fish returns. Wild fish are basically 20 percent of those numbers, so let's do more math! Yay! Let's assume wild fish smolt production is also 20 percent of those hatcheries. Now we have 28.2 million wild salmonid smolts. That's a hypothetical number, don't misunderstand Salmon Nation. So, if we multiply the total number of adult returns by 20 percent we get 3,273,004 wild adult returners. Obviously, if you know anything about math we will come to the same paltry SAR. Obviously, that number is a conjecture and not subject to the rigors of the scientific standards required. However, the general thesis still applies and is in entirely intact. Breach some dams already.
So, obviously, all the effort has been for naught. Apparently the strategy of killing or harassing cormorants and terns and sea lions and placing bounties on pikeminnow really isn't making any progress toward recovery.
A few years back some 85 percent of the fisheries biologists in the Pacific Northwest said the only sure way to recover wild salmonids in the Snake River Basin was to breach the lower Snake River dams. Well, why can't we go back to being problem-solving Americans? You know like the time when we went to the moon over and over again? You know like the time we kicked Hitler's butt? You know, that America that deservedly was considered great? Remember then?
Why not choose to be the generation that saved the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake River Basin? You do realize it is a choice you CAN make, right? Think on it a while, 70,000 of us already did and let the president know our thoughts on those deadbeat dams, why not join us on the Snake River October 3 as a member of the Free the Snake Flotilla?