Fast Facts: Dam Removal and Chinook Salmon

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ― The Klamath River that runs through south-central Oregon and Northern California will see the removal of four out of eight dams by 2024. An agreement was reached on Nov. 17, 2020, between the Yurok tribe, other stakeholders, and PacifiCorp, the company that owns the four lower dams that are set to be removed.
The dam removal plan will restore 400 stream miles of habitat for salmon, trout, and other native wildlife.
The Klamath River is the ancestral home to the Karok, Modoc, and Yurok tribes, and was brought to the attention of gold miners during the Gold Rush in 1850, according to Klamathriver.com.
The Yurok people inhabit 44 miles of the Klamath River throughout Humbolt and Del Notre counties in Northern California. The Yurok people have lived by and fished the Klamath River long before the arrival of non-Native American explorers in the 1500s.
Traditionally fishing was one of the tribe’s prime sources of income, but declining fish populations have greatly affected the income source.
The Klamath River was once home to the third-largest salmon run in the United States but the induction of dams in the early 1900s was one of the causes linked to the dramatic decline in the salmon population, most noticeably the Chinook Salmon.
“Anytime you put a dam on a river, it always has profound effects: it chops the river into two pieces,” said the Yurok tribe’s senior fisheries biologist, Michael Belchik, in a BBC article from Nov. 10, 2020. “Rivers carry a lot more than just water. The water goes downriver, fish move upriver, but not only that: there’s nutrients, sediment, and other organisms.”
The Chinook Salmon went from numbers in the hundreds of thousands to just 700 in the past century, according to the BBC.
Deforestation and the introduction of dams throughout the 1900s saw the destruction of the local habitat and a sharp decline in the native fish population, most noticeably the spring-run Chinook Salmon.
The spring-run Chinook Salmon are the largest of the five Pacific salmon types, and at one point were the most abundant type of trout in the Klamath Basin. CalTrout estimates that Chinook Salmon spring-runs added up to 100,000 fish annually with numbers dropping to an average of 2,000 in the past decade.
One of the hopes for removing the dams is that the Chinook Salmon will see a resurgence by opening up a path to their historical cold-water habitats.

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