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Climate change threatening salmon habitats, researcher says

Chinook Salmon
Pacific Northwest National Lab
Flickr Creative Commons

Climate change may be having dangerous effects on Idaho’s salmon breeding grounds, according to a new study.

A study directed by Daniele Tonina, an ecohydraulics professor at the University of Idaho, finds that spawning areas for Chinook salmon in Bear Valley Creek are disappearing due to slower rivers and lower water levels.

“Fish require certain physical characteristics, so a certain velocity, a certain depth and a certain temperature," Tonina said. "Areas of the river that have those biological requirements are becoming smaller and smaller."

Lisa Crozier, a research ecologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, agreed that finding a harmonious location to breed with the perfect water temperature and flow is getting harder.

The study looked at water flow data reaching as far back as 1957 with the help of "3D laser scanning," according to the university.

Suitable Chinook habitat on the Salmon River may be cut in half before 2040 as water levels decrease and breeding grounds become "fragmented," according to the study. Tonina didn't provide a specific short-term metric to measure any immediate effects.

"We can expect that the population might not go back to the size that they used to be," Tonina said.

It also means that wild fish, including other coldwater species like trout and steelhead, will be harder to find along the entire river.

When asked about how people can help ensure salmon populations remain safe, Tonina says that conserving water can help keep river levels high and temperatures cool for the salmon to breed.

"Saving water is one of the best things that we can do as as as a whole, as a community."

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