The truth about Salmon and Steelhead.

Every article in every paper and every discussion from every group talks about how removing the dams will allow Salmon to return to the upper Klamath and southern Oregon. The sad part is that this simply isn't true. Even if all the dams come out and water conditions are perfect, Salmon will more than likely never travel up the Klamath beyond the Irongate / Bogus Creek Hatchery.

Why? Let's start with the basics.

What is a Salmon?
There are several types of Salmon. Most common in the Klamath is the Chinook (King Salmon). These are born in the tributaries of the Klamath (or hatcheries on those tributaries) and go to sea in their early life. These Salmon return in about 4 years to spawn in the exact stream in which they were born. These Salmon can only live for a short time in fresh water and many die before spawning but all Chinook Salmon that return to spawn will die. This is different from a Steelhead. Many people think Steelhead are Salmon because of their size and because they go to sea and return to spawn, but at Steelhead is born a Rainbow Trout. These trout may decide to live in the rivers and streams or they may go to sea. The ones that go to sea return to spawn as Steelhead. Steelhead will usually spawn in the same tributary they were born in but, unlike the Salmon, may not always do so. Steelhead do not die after spawning and may return to the sea only to spawn again in later years.

Back to the Salmon. The Chinook in the Klamath are not Klamath River Salmon. By that I mean that they do not return to spawn in the Klamath. They return to spawn in the Klamath tributaries. Tracking studies have shown that Salmon from one tributary will not spawn in another. Shasta River Salmon always return to the Shasta, Scott River Salmon always return to the Scott. The Salmon from Bogus Creek and the Irongate Hatchery only return to that tributary. This is the main reason that the Salmon will not be returning to the upper Klamath even if the dams are removed.

For example, there was once a strain of Salmon that Spawned up Shovel Creek above Copco Lake. When Copco was built these Salmon didn't just start spawning in a tributary down stream. Instead they would try as hard as they could to get passed the barrier in the river that was preventing them from reaching their destination. They would do this until they would die. The same happened to Fall Creek when Irongate was built. After about 4 years the Fall Creek Strain became extinct. So any Salmon strains that once spawned above Irongate, Copco, Boyle or the upper Klamath Lake are long since extinct. Steelhead may infact return to spawn in the upper Klamath and Rainbow Trout currently living in Copco and Irongate may choose to go to sea and com back as Steelhead, but Salmon will not.

Why not just take eggs from one hatchery and plan them in the tributaries obove the lakes?
Because it doesn't work. There has never been a sucessful attempt to restore an extinct Salmon population with Salmon from a different spawning stream or river. That will have to be left up to evolution, which since it happened once, can not be ruled out. But that could take thousands of years to happen.

What about land locked Salmon? Yes, there is such a thing. Salmon that are born in fresh water and can not go to sea can live a long time in fresh water. But once they go to sea they can not return to fresh water and survive. There are exceptions. Kokanee Salmon are a version of land locked Sockeye Salmon that have evolved to live in fresh water and still Spawn. However, they still die when they spawn.

So if all this money and effort is being spent on behalf of Salmon, I'm afraid it is all for nothing.

John Wardlaw

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