Sediment tells the story of a healing ecosystem

Lonesome Larry visits Elwha River

Larry at the Former Elwha Dam Site. Photo by Joanna Guild.

Part 2 of a two-part series. Click here to read Part 1.

By Steve Guild, IRU Summer Intern

Water at the mouth of the Elwha River is clouded with sediment that makes it impossible to see the riverbed. In this river, long plugged by two large dams, this is fantastic progress.

For over a century anadromous fish have been unable to return to their native headwaters. Cloudy water at the river’s mouth is a sign that the natural system is coming back to life.

To understand the impacts dam removal has on native salmon, I work up-river. This age old path has been followed by salmon entering ecosystems to spawn for millennia.

West of Port Angeles salmon enter the Elwha River from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. From its mouth the river stretches 40 miles up and into the Olympic Mountains. The Elwha River itself starts at a permanent snowfield known as the Elwha snow finger. The upper tributaries of the river originate in the heart of the Olympic Mountains, with the main stem draining the southeast slopes of Mount Olympus (Humes Glacier). Once completely freed later this year, there will be 75 miles of historic spawning habitat open to anadromous fishes for the first time in a century.

Elwha Dam, the lower of the two, blocked passage of fish attempting to travel upriver to spawn in the Elwha River’s headwaters since 1910. For the first time in more than a century, returning salmon are not trapped in a pool at the base of Elwha Dam. Returning fish now have access to 8.6 more miles of their historic habitat until they are stopped at the base of Glines Canyon Dam, which is 75 percent removed.

Sediment long trapped by the dams, however, is clogging systems meant to handle any amount of debris the Elwha could pass along. Unfortunately officials underestimated the amount of sediment delivered by the river in the early 1900s. The original estimated buildup behind the two Elwha dams was 15.3 million cubic yards, a number updated a few years ago to 24 million cubic yards. This past year the number was bumped even higher, to 36 million cubic yards. The amount of in-river debris is greater than the capacity of water treatment systems at Port Angeles to handle. Despite the latest and greatest in engineering technology we are only now beginning to understand the true negative impacts dams have inflicted on the local ecosystem.

Impacts of sediment in the water go beyond municipal water treatment issues. Sediment can also be fatal to salmon. Knowing this could be an issue for returning fish, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drafted the Elwha River Fish Restoration Plan, a blueprint for native salmon recovery to be implemented in tandem with dam removal. In accordance to the plan native fish stocks have been trapped and transported both above the Glines Canyon Dam and to specially designated hatcheries. These hatcheries will raise wild stocks to be released with their adipose fins intact to ensure the future of the river’s wild fish stock.

While the lower Elwha is cloudy with troublesome, though temporary, sediment, the upper river above Glines Canyon Dam is clear. To observe this I traveled around Glines Canyon Dam and returned to the river on a trail opened to the public at upper Lake Mills–the reservoir created by the dam. As I drank in my surroundings I was astonished by the stark contrast in the landscape. From gravel bars above the former lake I was able to see sediment that had built up behind Glines Canyon Dam. But looking into the river I could see clear glacial water tainted only by glacial sediment.

This dam removal is significant in that the Elwha was not freed by captains of industry, but in spite of them. It was the voice of a people begging for a healthy ecosystem that provided momentum to the movement that is bringing down unneeded and costly dams in every corner of the United States.

The Elwha dam removals are an illustration of what is possible and give me hope that the voice of the people will be heard again in the Columbia River Basin, where four dams on the lower Snake River continue to kill the majority of Idaho’s salmon. Removal of these monolithic impediments will give future anadromous fish a better chance at survival, will return fishing jobs to rural communities and will help restore balance to the ecosystem.

The History and Importance of the Elwha River

Lonesome Larry Elwha River Delta

Lonesome Larry stands at the Elwha River delta, where the sediments from the newly freed Elwha River arehard at work restoring the delta. Photo by Joanna Guild.

Part 1 in a two-part series. Click here to read Part 2.

By Steve Guild, IRU Summer Intern

Lonesome Larry Elwha River

Lonesome Larry looks upstream toward the Elwha River’s origins.

In September 2011 more than 100 people gathered on the bank of the Elwha River to celebrate the largest dam removal project in history. Both the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams would be removed to make way for migrating salmon and steelhead.

Now, two years later, one of the dams is gone and the other 75 percent removed, and the salmon have responded. Migrating salmon began passing the old site of Elwha dam almost immediately upon its removal.

This week, Lonesome Larry is traveling to the Olympic Peninsula to gather a first-fish account of what happened on the Elwha River and how lessons learned there can be applied to the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state where the science is clear—four dams there are the most significant impediment to the survival of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead.

Following federal district Judge James Redden’s August 2011 rejection of the latest federal salmon recovery plan for Idaho fish, it’s time to bring key salmon players together to begin a collaborative process that finds lasting solutions to this decades-old problem.

The Elwha

As in the upper Snake River basin in Idaho, the Elwha River Basin on the Olympic Peninsula has been home to salmon and steelhead for thousands of years. These fish support the ecosystem by providing nutrients to water and soil. The soil and water grow plants, which support a wide variety of animals both large and small. Each part of a healthy ecosystem supports the others, preventing overpopulation as well as removing the weak and sick. This was the natural life of the Elwha, in which salmon are the keystone species.

A keystone species is a plant or animal around which a whole ecosystem is built. Without the keystone species an entire ecosystem could collapse. As water runs out to the ocean it takes with it nutrients from the headwaters. Salmon nourish the system. Without salmon returning and dying to feed the river and surrounding land, the system would eventually weaken and support less and less life. A few studies centered on the Olympic Peninsula help illustrate the point.

In 1988 C. Jeff Cederholm highlighted the importance of salmon in research tracking the nutrients of 945 coho salmon. To do this Cederholm and his team placed coho carcasses along seven streams on the Olympic Peninsula. During their research they recorded 43 species of mammals and birds present and found that 51 percent of them fed on the coho carcasses.

Further research by Sarah Morley and Jeff Duda from 2004-2006 documented that in reaches of rivers accessible to salmon nitrogen levels were higher than in areas blocked by dams. Nitrogen is a fundamental building block in organic life, and its presence in the ecosystem signifies health.

In a seperate survey conducted in 2006-2008 Morley and her team placed salmon carcasses in side channels of rivers inaccessible to salmon and found that nitrogen levels in the surrounding plants and animals became elevated. These nitrogen levels remained significantly elevated for three months and were detectable in many levels of the food chain from algae and insects to juvenile fish. Areas in which the carcasses were placed had growth rates 300 percent higher than in areas only 600 feet upstream.

The Elwha’s ecosystem was put to the test in 1890 when Thomas Aldwell arrived in Port Angeles at the mouth of the Elwha. Aldwell had come with a singular focus on development to take advantage of the natural abundance of the area.

Like many towns of the era Port Angeles lacked electricity, limiting its potential for industrial growth. Aldwell knew that building a hydroelectric dam on the Elwha River would increase the prosperity of the town. The Elwha Dam worked. Energy brought in paper mills, ship yards, lumber mills and other forms of industry that in turn provided employment. Energy demand was so high that a second dam was built 8.6 miles upstream at Glines Canyon. But the dams quickly aged and were rapidly outdated. The benefits they provided were quickly overshadowed by the toll they inflicted on the Olympic Peninsula’s native wild salmon.

From the beginning there were people who doubted the dams’ viability. The bottom of Elwha Dam, for example, was not anchored into the ground. Rather, it was built on bedrock and was referred to by some as a “dam on roller-skates.” Before the reservoir was filled for the first time the bottom of the dam blew out from the pressure of water behind it. Even after being repaired Elwha Dam always leaked. While some removal advocacy groups rallied around Elwha Dam’s instability others rallied around the cause of anadromous fish. Even as pressure to remove the dams grew, dam owners and the government seemed to strengthen their resolve.

Crown Zellerbach Corporation, one of the owners of Elwha Dam, defended its existence in filings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a license to run the dam.

“The dam and reservoir have become an integral part of the environment… and has very little direct or indirect detrimental effect on the ecology of the land, air, and water environment,” the company said in its FERC filing. For several years the status quo seemed inevitable.

In 1986 the Federal Power Act was amended to require that FERC give fish and wildlife protection, mitigation and enhancement equal consideration with economic need and power production when considering the viability of power projects.

Dam opposition groups saw an opportunity. If they could prove that there was significant damage created by the dams, perhaps they could work for their removal. Public interest groups began pressuring FERC to include a cost-benefit analysis within its next Environmental Impact Statement.

In 1991 FERC released the EIS for relicensing the two dams. The document included a cost-benefit analysis that clearly showed it would be cheaper to remove the dams than to alter them to adhere to the new environmental standards.

That was the beginning of the end for the Elwha dams. With distinct benefits to be gained by restoring the native anadromous fishery and the dams not pulling their own weight economically, the stage was set for dam removal.

Check in with Larry on Facebook for updates and photos from the Elwha River Basin.

Part 1 in a two-part series. Click here to read Part 2.

Sockeye, kokanee, chinook… confused? Larry is here to help.

Female Kokanee from Mores Creek. Photo by Anne Morrison.

The most interesting fish in the world found some interesting friends in Mores Creek on Saturday, August 18. The fish migrating upstream were smaller and far less traveled than our hero, Lonesome Larry, but sported the same signature red and crooked jaw as a sockeye salmon. They were kokanee,  the land-locked version of sockeye.

Although there is no taxonomic difference between sockeye and kokanee, they differ in migration and spawning behavior. Kokanee, whose name comes from a Native American word for “red fish,” naturally inhabit lakes where sockeye salmon currently or historically ranged, but spend their entire lives in freshwater. Sockeye spawn in lakes and migrate to the ocean, while kokanee spawn in tributary streams and migrate to a lake. Due to the relatively abundant food supply in the ocean, adult sockeye are usually between 20-30 inches long, while kokanee are only  8-20 inches long. Both sockeye and kokanee are known for their vibrant red color at spawning time and the males’ pronounced, crooked jaw.

There are two other salmon species native to Idaho: chinook (also known as King salmon) and coho (also known as silver salmon, now extinct in Idaho). Chinook are larger than sockeye and spawn in large rivers instead of lakes, while coho spawn in small streams and tributaries.  Both are carnivorous and have larger teeth than herbivorous sockeye and kokanee.

Like sockeye, chinook and coho migrate to the ocean and return inland via the Columbia river system to spawn and die, so these species became threatened by the construction of four extra dams on the Snake river in the 1970s. Idaho’s coho runs became extinct in 1986, shortly before Idaho’s chinook and sockeye became protected under the Endangered Species Act.

While meeting and greeting Idahoans, Lonesome Larry is often confused for his salmonid cousins, the steelhead and rainbow trout. Like anadromous salmon, steelhead migrate to the ocean and return inland to spawn. However, they do not always die after spawning and may spawn multiple times over several years. Rainbow trout are the exclusively fresh-water version of steelhead trout (like kokanee to sockeye).

All of the fish listed above are native to Idaho and serve an important role in its ecosystem, but the anadromous migratory fish (sockeye, chinook, coho, and steelhead) are especially important. These fish leave the streams of their birthplace as tiny smolts and later return from the sea to spawn and die as full-grown adults, so their bodies transfer a large amount of ocean nutrients to landlocked areas upstream. This feeds and fertilizes a plethora of other species, including plants, insects, birds, bears, coyotes, and other fish.

To see some of Idaho’s amazing migratory fish for yourself, try searching for kokanee within the next few days at any of the stops on Mores Creek along Highway 21. Also, come to the Sawtooth Salmon Festival in Stanley on August 25th. Guides will take you free of charge to the nearby Salmon river to see the miracle of spawning chinook salmon.

If you have trouble spotting fish in the water, do not despair–an incredibly interesting sockeye will be dancing on the lawn at the festival. His name is Lonesome Larry and he’s six feet tall–you can’t miss him.

Lonesome Larry takes a scenic swim through the Clearwater-Lochsa River corridor

Lonesome Larry visits the Clearwater River along Highway 12

The most interesting fish in the world splashed through US Highway 12 last weekend in celebration of the recent success of grassroots activists, Idaho conservation groups, the Nez Perce Tribe, and government officials in Montana. These groups banded together last year to protect the Clearwater-Lochsa Wild & Scenic River corridor, which was under threat of becoming a permanent parking lot and transit route for hundreds of Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil’s road-closing, high and wide loads of industrial equipment.

The Highway 12 corridor and the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers are among the first rivers protected in 1968 with passage of the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. They are home to important populations of salmon and listed wild steelhead and bull trout, provide important breeding and nesting grounds for harlequin ducks, are are habitat for a variety of other  mammals, raptors and songbirds. The rivers also provide diverse recreation opportunities such as hunting, fishing, hiking and kayaking.

Up to 580,000 pounds and 200 feet in length, these megaloads are not your everyday semi-truck.

Last year, Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil proposed to use Highway 12 and Lolo Pass to transport 220 loads of oil-refinery equipment, each weighing up to 580,000 pounds and measuring up to 200 feet in length, to their tar-sands operation in Canada. Allowing Highway 12 to be converted into a high-and-wide route for these loads would have changed the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers and their recreation opportunities forever.

Lin Laughy and Borg Hendrikson of Kooskia, Idaho decided to take action against the megaloads by leading grassroots protests. Idaho Rivers United, other conservation groups, the Nez Perce Tribe, and government officials in Montana also joined the fight. Last March, Idaho Rivers United filed a lawsuit demanding that Wild & Scenic protections for the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers be upheld by denying megaloads access to Highway 12.

By applying pressure in both federal court and in the court of public opinion, these groups managed to change the plan for Exxon and its subsidiaries. The company reduced the size of its loads and shipped them through Moscow and Coeur d’Alene and I-90 instead. Imperial/Exxon has indicated that the Highway 12 route through the Wild & Scenic corridor remains an option for the company should legal hurdles clear, so IRU’s lawsuit, which still awaits hearing, remains imperative.

This is the kind of success story that gives Lonesome Larry hope for the future of his species. Grassroots movements like this one, begun and pursued by volunteers who truly care, are effective in protecting and preserving the rivers and species we love. Similar conservation movements, including the national campaign to save wild Snake and Columbia River salmon, will always depend on grassroots activists for support.

Being Lonesome Larry: a look behind the fishy facade

Anne Morrison and Joe Pickett.

It's difficult not to be curious about a man in a sockeye salmon suit.

By Annie Morrison, IRU Intern

Mascot suits used to freak me out when I was younger. What I couldn’t have imagined then is that I’d spend a summer traveling the state of Idaho as a person-sized sockeye salmon.

This summer my boyfriend and fellow College of Idaho senior Joe Picket and I were hired by Idaho Rivers United to promote Idaho’s most famous fish: Lonesome Larry, the only sockeye salmon to return to Redfish Lake in 1992, the year after sockeye were listed as an endangered species.

People react to the Lonesome Larry suit in a variety of ways. Teenage girls tend to hug us. Toddlers gaze in starry-eyed awe. Raft guides give us high-fives. A lot of people laugh or smile, and a few roll their eyes and shake their heads. But over and over again, we are asked a simple, obvious question that completely misses the point of promoting awareness about the plight of Idaho’s wild salmon: “Is it hot in that costume?”

Sometimes it takes guts to don the Larry suit, amble up to a group of strangers and strike  a conversation about the steps the region needs to take to recover wild salmon. At first, I was worried people would get angry, but most Idahoans we’ve talked with have been kind, curious and willing to at least consider what we have to say. Even those who outright disagree with Lonesome Larry’s stance on political, biological or economic issues can usually laugh with us and part without hard feelings. A friendly smile goes a long way. To quote IRU board member Tom Stuart, the key is to “grin ‘em down.”

While on the road for a few days, the team stays at campsites. Joe Pickett relaxes by a campfire at Mackay Reservoir.

All things considered, Joe and I both love being the Lonesome Larry team. It is a fun job that allows us to work for a cause for which we have passion, and that is just about the best opportunity two college students can ask for. We’re paid to travel around Idaho together, and we see amazing sights and meet wonderful people. We take turns wearing a truly awesome outfit and taking silly pictures in it. I get to research and write about the places we travel, and I’m learning every day.

It also feels great to be part of an organization that is making a difference. As relative newcomers to the salmon issue, Joe and I know that if our generation sees the removal of the four lower Snake River dams and the recovery of wild salmon runs in Idaho, it will be because organizations like IRU were fighting for those fish when we were still wearing diapers. It will also be because IRU took us and others under the organization’s wing as interns and taught us how to fight for what’s important. IRU’s staff and board members are some of the most intelligent and determined people we have ever met, and Joe and I both feel grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.

Joe and I would love to see restored wild salmon runs in Idaho someday. And when we do, we’ll know we were a small part of what brought them back. We will always be proud to tell people that when we were seniors in college, we wore the Lonesome Larry suit and spread the word about the plight of Idaho’s endangered wild salmon all around Idaho–and had a lot of fun doing it. This may just be the best summer job in the world.

As for the question of whether the Lonesome Larry suit is hot–well, it can be a little warm, but it’s really nowhere near as bad as it looks.

Making friends at the Main Street Mile Mascot Race in downtown Boise.

Joe Pickett and Annie Morrison were hired at Idaho Rivers United for the summer 2012 season to work on a campaign promoting Idaho’s most famous fish, a sockeye salmon dubbed Lonesome Larry–the only sockeye to return to central Idaho in 1992. Their mission was both simple and hopelessly complex: wear a Lonesome Larry costume all over the state and drum up support for salmon by endearing Larry to everyone they met. On all counts, they succeeded beyond expectations.

Both students are going into their senior years at the College of Idaho. Pickett, a math-physics major, is from Midvale, Idaho. Morrison, an environmental studies major and journalism minor, is from Tacoma, Wash. Morrison’s internship was made possible by Caldwell’s Whittenberger Foundation. Picket worked as a part-time summer employee.

Lonesome Larry takes his fishy tune to Hot Summer Nights

The most interesting fish in the world splashed onto the stage of Riggins’ Hot Summer Nights Talent Show on Friday evening, playing guitar and singing an original song about his heartbreaking story. Lonesome Larry placed second in the competition–not too shabby for a fish out of water.

Ironic though it may seem, Larry is a huge fan of fishermen.

Hot Summer Nights is an annual community celebration on the banks of the Salmon River. This year’s festivities included live music, games and water slides for kids, face-painting, food, a beer-garden, and talent show. While performing in front of a crowd can be nerve-wracking, the Riggins community provided a supportive and fun audience for all the show’s contestants, even fishy ones. Cheering on Larry in especially boisterous fashion were a number of rafting guides and fishermen, some of the strongest advocates for salmon recovery because they know how much salmon mean business for rural riverside towns like Riggins. Thanks, Riggins, for a fantastic hot summer night.

Stay thirsty, Idahoans, and check back to see Larry’s performance!

Lonesome Larry plays his song at Riggins' Hot Summer Nights Talent Show.

Lonesome Larry’s radio ads hit the airwaves!

When he's not riding toy horses, The Most Interesting Fish in the World produces radio ads to share his story with the masses.Statewide exposure is what Idaho’s most interesting sockeye salmon deserves, and that’s what he’s getting this summer in radio ads airing in every corner of the state. The ads, which you can listen to below, hit the airwaves July 16 and will run through the end of August.

Click the tracks below to give the ads a listen, and leave a comment describing which is your favorite.

 

 

 

Larry finds teamwork at Redfish Lake

Larry talks with guests about the plight of wild salmon during a boat tour of Redfish Lake.

The work to advance awareness of the plight of Idaho’s wild salmon is far more than a one-fish job. Fortunately there is an abundance of people and organizations dedicated to saving wild salmon far into the future.

Lonesome Larry teamed up with the Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association last weekend to help spread the word. A non-profit organization based in Stanley, the Historical Association’s mission is to protect and advance the natural and cultural history of Idaho’s Sawtooth and Salmon River country through preservation and education.

Larry shares his story at SIHA's Junior Ranger program.

The Historical Association offers a wide array of fun and educational opportunities in Stanley, including the Stanley museum, a historic walking tour of Stanley, and the Redfish Center, which offers daily educational programs during the summer, including nature hikes and Junior Ranger programs that teach young people about the history, biology and geology of the region. In conjunction with Redfish Lake Lodge, the Redfish Center offers scheduled boat tours of Redfish Lake. During tours, interpretive specialists discuss Sawtooth history, geology, and ecology. Lonesome Larry joined a group of Junior Rangers and made a special appearance on Saturday’s boat tour to tell his story.

Like so many other challenges faced by today’s world, spreading the word about Idaho’s sockeye is something best accomplished by a lot of people working together. Thanks to SIHA and other organizations that are helping to tell the story of the most interesting fish in the world, Lonesome Larry feels a little less lonesome at the end of the day.

The ladies at SIHA just couldn't resist the most interesting (and handsome) fish in the world!

 

Fish-friendly power: Lonesome Larry explores clean energy alternatives

Lonesome Larry visits a wind farm near Pocatello, Idaho.

Good news, Idahoans! You’ve won the clean-energy lottery. As the world attempts to move to more environmentally friendly energy sources, there are few places with more potential than Idaho to develop abundant power with low carbon emissions and an otherwise small environmental impact.

Many traditional methods of producing power, such as coal-fired power plants, produce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Higher global temperatures will affect salmon in several ways: reduced snowpack (and therefore reduced stream flows), more severe storms and floods, warmer water, and ocean acidification are just a few of the problems that may result from a warmer climate.

In the northwest, a large percentage of power is generated by hydroelectric dams, which produce no carbon emissions but are lethal to migrating fish. The four dams on the lower Snake River produce relatively little power for the region–less than four percent during peak production.This is energy for which alternatives and conservation measures can easily pick up the slack.

As the 13th windiest state in the nation, Idaho has enormous potential for wind power. Wind is is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and uses little land. Windmills are fairly quiet and can be placed in fields that are also used for crops or grazing. Like many man-made structures, wind mills can pose a problem for bats and birds, but their environmental impact is still low compared with other types of power generation.

Wild salmon and wind energy work together well in the Northwest, as sustainable resources and job creators.  But the Obama administration’s present management of the Columbia and Snake Rivers doesn’t reflect this natural partnership, thus needlessly pitting wind energy and salmon recovery against each other.  Conservationists are working to change that.  Federal policy should keep salmon swimming, wind turbines turning, and jobs from both growing.

Although currently used on a smaller scale, solar power is another clean energy resource readily available in Idaho. For the time-being, solar panels are expensive to build and take up more space than windmills, but solar energy produces no carbon emissions and is more predictable than wind energy. Idaho also boasts abundant geothermal power, which uses hot water naturally present underground to generate power from steam. This method of power generation has a low environmental impact, but not every place in the world has geothermal potential. Luckily, Idaho sits on a geothermal hotspot and contains more hot springs than any other state in the continental U.S.

There may be no perfect energy source–every type of power generation has its pros and cons–but it is important to understand that the Northwest has a lot of choices, and Idahoans do not have to give up their salmon to have electricity in the twenty-first century. By understanding and investing in its many options, it is possible for Idaho to find an energy solution that works for both its people and its environment.

Heartbreak and hope: Larry visits his birthplace

Lonesome Larry visits his birthplace and spawning ground, Redfish lake.

The most interesting fish in the world comes from a beautiful and interesting place: Redfish Lake, located in the Sawtooth Valley of central Idaho. Lonesome Larry took a trip home earlier in July.

Redfish Lake, so named for the thousands of red sockeye salmon that once returned during the spawning season, is now a popular recreational area for boaters, campers and hikers. Since the completion of four dams on the Lower Snake river, the lake has seen few sockeye. In 1992, Lonesome Larry was the only sockeye salmon to return. After traveling 900 miles and 6,500 feet in elevation, the absence of a mate was a heartbreaking conclusion to such a stoic and heroic journey.

Like the Salmon River, Redfish Lake’s name no longer seems to fit, but there are still a few who recall how it used to be. A common story that Larry hears when he travels the state: “My father says he remembers when the lake became so full of salmon, it looked like you could walk across it on their backs.”

Thanks to good ocean conditions, federally mandated spill, pumped-up hatchery releases and further restoration measures pushed by Idaho Rivers United and other concerned stakeholders, sockeye have returned in greater numbers in recent years. However, they still have a long way to go before recovery is even part of the common vocabulary. Biologists estimate that 2,000 natural sockeye must return to the Sawtooth Valley for eight consecutive years before removal from the Endangered Species Act is even an option. That’s a long way from the 100 to 200 natural returns of the past couple years.

Larry visits Sunbeam Dam, which was breached in 1934 to allow for fish passage.

But there is hope for Larry and his sockeye friends. After his visit to Redfish lake, Larry dropped by Sunbeam Dam–a fish-killing barrier that was breached in 1934 and demonstrated the effectiveness of dam removal for salmon recovery.

Sunbeam was constructed on the Salmon River a few miles downstream of Stanley in 1910 to provide electricity for a nearby mining operation. Despite its role as a power dam, Sunbeam only generated electricity for one year and then sat for another 23 years as a virtually impenetrable barrier to sockeye and other migrating fish. In 1920, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game constructed a fish ladder over the dam, but the attempt at sockeye recovery yielded few returns.

By the 1930s, public outcry about the blocked fish populations led to action. In 1934, under circumstances that aren’t completely clear to historians, the obsolete dam was breached and sockeye began to repopulate the upper reaches of the Salmon River basin.

The events at Sunbeam signify that Idaho’s sockeye have the potential to recover if given a chance. It’s this little piece of hope that inspires Lonesome Larry to continue his travels–and to continue sharing his story.

Stay thirsty, Idahoans.

Lonesome Larry at Sunbeam Dam

Lonesome Larry examines the blown-up ramparts of Sunbeam Dam on the Salmon River. Once a fish-killing barrier, Sunbeam is now a testament to how endangered fish could bounce back if other dams downstream were to be removed.