OR salmon and climate change

I’m not convinced it is worth worrying much about climate change and northwest salmon when there is so much we can do to assist their recovery on shorter time scales and locally.  While the effects on water temperature and runoff could be huge, I’ll place my bet on the oceanographic variations exerting the strongest control on salmon through primary productivity in the NE Pacific.

Oregon Public BroadcastingElk River

The Future Of Salmon In Denmark

The emerald green Elk River winds down from the Coast range mountains, past tree-shaded banks. And riding the Elk’s currents to the sea are Chinook salmon.

Wild Chinook, and Chinook from the Elk River Hatchery.


Bill Peterson: “If there’s one thing we can expect from climate change, it’s variability. If there’s more variability, how can you predict anything? And the fact is, that you can’t.”

Bill Peterson says there are other climate cycles – like one called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which cycles from warm phases to cold phases about every 20-25 years.

At least – until recently.

Bill Peterson: “So we’ve had three phase changes from warm to cold, warm cold, cold warm in the last ten years. Which has never happened before. This is kind of what you’d expect from climate change, and if salmon have to deal with this on a year by year basis, they’re in big trouble. If you think they can maybe adapt to this, there’s no way. It’s really kind of sad.”

Robin Crisler says salmon are good at adapting to change.

Robin Crisler: “I cite the example of the Toutle River off of Mt. St. Helens – a complete disaster, and the river was ruined, but today, within far less than our lifetimes there are salmon and steelhead in the Toutle River again.”

Bill Peterson wants to believe.

Bill Peterson: “They’re tough, they’re resilient, and if there’s an animal that’s going to survive and make it in climate change, it’s the salmon. I mean they will find a way. I really firmly believe that. But we’ve got to help them any way we can. And hope for the best.”

2 Responses to OR salmon and climate change

  1. I don’t disagree, Scott. On the other hand, we can’t do much to ameliorate what’s happening offshore, but we can address freshwater challenges. And climate change is definitely exacerbating those freshwater challenges. Because our freshwater practices are already pushing salmon to the brink, we are foolish to ignore climate change as we plan for the future. Unfortunately, that is what NOAA did in the Columbia/Snake biop, assuming climate conditions to remain as they have been for the last 20 years.

  2. Here’s a thought-experiment question: If the Columbia and Snake were dam-free, would the probable impacts of climate change be significant to healthy salmon populations? I imagined the main place future warming would be a concern was in the (already too warm) reservoirs and that decreased snow-pack (and therefore river flows) would only be a problem because the BPA would be less willing to spill water over dams in low-flow situations.

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