More than 900 miles.
That’s how far Snake River salmon swim to reach their spawning grounds. Not only that, they climb 7,000 feet in elevation too. All to return home and continue the cycle of life, a process that’s imperative given their classification as an endangered species.
But because the federal government has refused to take the steps necessary to ensure their protection, those 900 miles are a never-ending fight for survival.
Later this fall, in conjunction with EP, Save Our Wild Salmon will be releasing a film that follows the journey of the critically endangered Snake River salmon, as these fish who migrate farther inland and higher than any other fish on Earth, making their way from the waters of southeast Alaska to the cold, wild rivers of Idaho’s Sawtooth Valley.
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The Salmon River is the longest undammed river in the continental United States. But it wasn’t always that way.
In 1910 Sunbeam dam was erected on the Salmon above its confluence with the Yankee Fork. The dam was built to supply cheap power to gold mining operations along the Yankee Fork. The dam supplied power to stamp mills and dredges for just over a year before the mining operation went bankrupt and closed.
A historical marker adjacent to the river claims that the Idaho Department of Fish & Game contracted demolition of the dam in 1934. However, locals know a different story. Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus wrote in his memoir, “A party or parties unknown ran a dynamite-laden raft into Sunbeam Dam. The dam blocked the annual salmon run. The party or parties unknown were never caught, a fairly unusual circumstance in this thinly populated country. But history was against them.”
Crumbling remains of the dam still cross half the canyon while the river flows freely against the southern bank. Many people consider these remnants a blight on an otherwise pristine river but every time I see the corpse of Sunbeam Dam I smile. The ruins serve as a reminder that Idaho’s salmon are more precious than gold. They’re priceless.
Any Idahoan will tell you that the Salmon River and its namesake salmon runs are two of the things that make Idaho special. I grew up playing and fishing along the banks of the Salmon and now I work for an organization called Idaho Rivers United protecting and restoring Idaho’s rivers and native fish.
I like the story of Sunbeam dam because it offers a lesson from our history and vision forward to the future.
- Albert Dickman photo www.kaleidoscopeidaho.com
by Jeff Cole
Most people never see sage grouse. They are elusive, endangered and you have to get up at ungodly hours to see them. The 23 groggy observers I led from a dim Boise, Idaho parking lot at 4:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning would testify that it’s mostly timing that keeps the sage grouse a relative secret.
Early enough that even the sun was hitting its snooze button, our caravan crept and finally rested on a dusty road cut through a sea of sagebrush in remote Owyhee County. It’s a country so isolated and inaccessible that directions to its treasured landscapes exist only by word of mouth, not in guidebooks or on the internet. As recently as 1981 notorious criminal Claude Dallas ranged freely on thousands of acres before his capture for murdering two Fish & Game wardens not 20 miles from our position.
A group comprising two professional photographers, a videographer from Idaho Public Television, Idaho Fish and Game biologist Michelle Commons-Kemner, and several eager observers, sneaked out of our packed carpool into the freezing darkness. Parked near one of their mating arenas—known as a lek—we were careful not to slam any car doors, and stood in the last minutes of night waiting to see grouse. We could hear the bird’s bizarre call and the occasional scratching of feet and scuttle of wings. The cold slowly penetrated my down coat, gloves and hat. Breath steam and darkness thwarted my vision as I squinted and tried to imagine that some of the dark blobs of sagebrush were actually rare upland birds.