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Imagine a free-flowing Snake River: Trout Unlimited CEO giving free talk at Gonzaga

The Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in Whitman County. On Tuesday, Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood is giving a free talk at Gonzaga entitled, “Imagine a free-flowing Snake River.”  (SPOKESMAN-REVIEW FILE)
The Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in Whitman County. On Tuesday, Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood is giving a free talk at Gonzaga entitled, “Imagine a free-flowing Snake River.” (SPOKESMAN-REVIEW FILE)

What would happen if the decades of fighting stopped, the four lower Snake River dams fell and salmon returned by the thousands to spawning grounds they’ve used for eons?

Chris Wood wants people to imagine the possibility.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., the Trout Unlimited CEO will be at Gonzaga University’s Globe Room in Cataldo Hall giving a talk entitled “Imagine a free-flowing Snake River.” The event is free and open to the public.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams in southeastern Washington.

Those dams come with a host of benefits. Most notably, they provide cheap electricity to thousands of homes and allow farmers to barge their wheat to Portland. But they also impede migration routes for steelhead trout, chinook salmon and sockeye salmon, preventing the fish from returning to their spawning grounds in Idaho and Oregon.

Since the dams’ construction, salmon and steelhead populations have plummeted. Governments have invested billions of dollars in an effort to find a way to keep the dams without pushing the fish to extinction.

Despite those efforts, salmon numbers keep falling, and experts say Snake River salmon are doomed if the dams stay.

“If we don’t remove the lower four Snake River dams, those fish are going to go extinct,” Wood said. “We should be honest about that.”

Wood said at the current pace, salmon are going to disappear soon.

“We probably have four or five generations before we lose wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, or at least in the Snake River basin,” he said. “I don’t mean human generations, I mean salmon generations – so 20-25 years probably.”

Wood argues there’s a way to remove the dams without hurting farmers and raising electricity costs.

“It doesn’t have to be a game of winners or losers,” he said. “That’s not a choice we have to make. We don’t have to pick between the people and the fish, we can have both.”

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