Past attempts to maintain or restore declining salmon numbers all assumed that technology alone could “fix” the damage caused by disregard for the underlying, interconnected processes of nature which gave rise to and sustained the great salmon runs of the Columbia Basin. Simple solutions could not replace the complexity of nature; naturally these attempts failed.
As the Columbia Basin was progressively developed to reap the full benefits of hydropower, agriculture, forestry, mining, and urbanization, periodic attempts were made to ameliorate the resultant declines in salmon production. Dams were equipped with fish ladders for returning adult salmon and bypass facilities for outmigrating smolts. Large scale hatchery programs were funded to replace production lost from areas flooded or blocked by dams. Screens were required on irrigation diversions. Laws were promulgated, but not enforced, to restore and maintain water quality and quantity and to protect ecosystems on which imperiled species depended for survival. Additional water was spilled to assist smolts over dams. Smolts were collected and barged around dams. Billions of dollars have been spent over the years to maintain salmon production in the Columbia River Basin.
Nevertheless all these efforts have proven inadequate to maintain anadromous fish numbers and productivity. The lesson is inescapable: technical solutions alone cannot maintain salmon populations in the face of massive disregard for, and destruction of, the ecosystems within which salmon evolved. If the remaining salmon are to be preserved and restored to tribal goal levels, the natural structure and functions of the salmon’s ecosystems, combined with wise use of technical expertise, must be foremost. Accomplishing this requires a common understanding of habitat requirements of salmon relative to the present conditions they face in the Columbia River Basin.