Columbia and Snake Rivers

Pacific Northwest

Location: The Columbia River originates in British Columbia. The Snake River originates in Yellowstone National Park and joins the Columbia in eastern Washington. Waters from both these rivers enters the Pacific Ocean just north of Portland, Oregon. Together they drain an area the size of France.


Types of salmon supported historically: This rich river system has been home to numerous populations of several North American Pacific salmon species, including chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and steelhead.

Estimated numbers of salmon historically: At the time of Lewis and Clark, the Columbia and Snake Rivers were home to the world’s greatest salmon and steelhead populations – up to 16 million adults annually returned from the Pacific Ocean to ancestral spawning beds in these rivers and their tributaries.

Current status: Today, just 2-3% of the original wild runs persist. Many, including the Snake River population of Coho salmon, are gone forever.

Major threat to salmon in this river: Federally owned and operated dams and habitat destruction have devastated many of the Columbia-Snake basin’s salmon populations. More than 200 hundred dams have been built in the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. These block access to upstream habitat, inundate spawning and rearing habitat, warm waters, and support greatly increased populations of predator fish like pikeminnow.

What action needs to be taken to address the major threat: Our best opportunity for significant salmon and steelhead recovery in the Columbia Basin depends on the removal of four costly and outdated dams on the lower Snake River. These four dams were built in the 1960s and 1970s, primarily to establish a 140 mile taxpayer-subsidized barging transportation corridor between Lewiston Idaho and the Columbia River where it joins with the Snake River in south-central Washington State.

These dams have devastated Snake River populations. All remaining Snake River stocks – spring-summer chinook, fall chinook, sockeye, and steelhead are in danger of extinction. In 2007, for example, just four Snake River sockeye salmon survived their journey from the Pacific Ocean to their ancestral spawning grounds in Redfish Lake in Idaho’s Rocky Mountains — an ancient upstream migration of more than 900 miles inland and 6,500 feet above sea level. Just four fish.

Lower Snake River dam removal is only part of the solution for salmon and affected communities. A plan that removes these dams and makes the necessary investments in local communities can be a win-win for salmon, fishermen, farmers, regional ratepayers, and American taxpayers. We can save salmon, save money, and invest in our communities.

To learn more: Visit the website of Save our Wild Salmon, a SalmonAID member organization. Save Our Wild Salmon is a large and diverse coalition of conservationists, commercial and recreational fishermen, clean energy and taxpayer advocates, and businesses committed to protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead to abundant, self-sustaining, and fishable levels.