Officials say wild salmon runs on Tucannon River are in dire straits

The Lewiston Tribune

Picture a fading fluorescent light tube, sputtering off and on and humming a warning that it may soon blink out and go dark.

Tucannon River spring salmon are displaying their own signs of impending darkness. For the past five years, fewer than 50 wild spring chinook have returned to spawn in the river that tumbles out of the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area in Washington’s Blue Mountains and twists its way north through ponderosa pine and cottonwood trees to join the Snake River near Starbuck.

“For every adult spawner you have out in the river, you get, on average, 0.7 back. In the long term, that isn’t self-sustaining,” said Joe Bumgarner, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Dayton.

There is short-term trouble. The 2021 spring chinook run has exceeded modest preseason forecasts, but there are signs the gains are being made by hatchery fish, while wild chinook protected by the Endangered Species Act continue to struggle. As of last week, just 38 wild and 11 hatchery chinook had returned to the Tucannon River. Fisheries managers forecast 100 to 150 fish eventually will make it back this spring, with only a fraction of those being wild spawners.

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