Thursday, January 6, 2011

Snake River Basin Listed Among Top Conservation Priorities

The Endangered Species Coalition released a report today, that spurs us to answer the question: if we are serious about protecting endangered species from climate change where do we begin?

Several esteemed scientists have some ideas…

A panel of scientists identified the top 10 ecosystems to save in a warming world – one of those places is the Snake River Basin – of central Idaho, northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. The high-elevation region of snow-covered mountains and ice-cold streams comprises the best salmon spawning habitat left in the lower 48 states.

Alongside places like Greater Yellowstone, the Arctic, and the Hawaiian Islands, the Snake River Basin is key to ensuring that some of our nation’s most imperiled critters make it to the next few decades and beyond.

For endangered species, climate change makes an existence that’s already a struggle even harder. Climate-related threats like increased disease, lost habitat, and reduced food supply add to the challenges that imperiled wildlife must grapple with. This is especially true for coldwater fish, like salmon and steelhead, which are often described as being on the front lines of climate change, as streams and rivers tend to warm faster than surrounding terrestrial areas.

But fortunately there is some good news.

Some habitats out there can serve as refuges in a warming world and help make the difference between extinction and existence for species that are already too close to the edge. That’s the case for the Snake River Basin.

The salmon and steelhead that call the Snake River Basin home are one of a kind. These iconic fish climb higher (almost 7,000 feet in elevation) and swim farther (nearly 1,000 miles inland) to reach their spawning grounds than any other salmon on earth. In doing so, they also carry vital nutrients from the Pacific Ocean inland to ancient forests, rivers, meadows, and about 150 other species – supporting entire ecosystems and food webs. The awesomeness of Snake River salmon is limited only by the obstacles we’ve put in their way – which in this case are large, lethal, concrete obstacles. The four dams on the lower Snake River – make it especially difficult, and in some cases impossible, for salmon and steelhead to reach their high-elevation habitat.

“If we can get these fish back here, to the highest, coldest, and most intact salmon habitat in the continental U.S., they can survive and thrive and feed others, even in the face of climate change,” says retired Idaho fisheries biologist and Snake River salmon expert Don Chapman. “But we need to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River in order to reconnect this special habitat to the salmon that call it home.” 

The Endangered Species Coalition’s report reminds us that there is no time to waste when it comes to protecting the habitats that imperiled wildlife need to survive. For Snake River salmon and steelhead, that means getting them back to the cold mountain streams where they belong… and it means removing the four lower Snake River dams. Do your part. Take ACTION here.

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