Climate Change Impacts on Idaho Salmon, University of Idaho

New research shows that factors related to climate change in Idaho are impacting salmon populations and habitats.

BOISE, Idaho – Idaho’s backyard captures the imagination of outdoor enthusiasts: the beautiful trees, crisp streams of water, and a diverse wildlife population. Places like the Boise National Forest are great for summer activities, but they’re also prime locations for research projects.

“It actually is. I am very excited and very happy to be part of this field because we are studying the impact of the physical environment on ecosystems,” said Dr. Daniele Tonina, professor and researcher at the University of Idaho at the Center for Ecohydraulics Research.

Dr. Tonina is part of a research team that has just published findings on the impact of climate change on salmon habitats in Idaho.

“What we really wanted to understand was how much this climate change has impacted the habitat of certain colonies,” Tonina said.

The research focused on chinook salmon habitats on Bear Valley Creek, a headwater stream of the Salmon River in central Idaho. The team’s findings include points that many Idahoans would raise their eyebrows at.

“What we have found is that the climate is expected to get a bit drier in our system. So what are we waiting for? It is not only the water temperature that needs to be warmer, but also the summer volume. The volume of water in summer will be less. And that also means a smaller volume of habitats in streams during the summer months for spawning but also rearing. And those are two aspects that have been highly valued when it comes to the aspect of climate change on fish habitat,” Tonina said.

This means that as climate change continues, the impact on Idaho salmon habitat could be significantly threatened.

“That equates to a 20% reduction in rearing habitat and another 23% reduction in spawning habitat, which is actually very significant compared to what it was in the 1960s. So it’s a big reduction and it will be even bigger when we project behind the 24th and get to 2090,” Tonina said.

So why should Idahoans care?

“Well, it’s very important to all of us. I think it’s primarily because salmon is an iconic species for us in the Pacific Northwest and has lived here for thousands of years. And climate change continues with the pressure these are populations that we could see decreasing on the size of that population which means eventually the fish in them will be extremely limited and in the most extreme cases or scenarios , we can expect some of the species, some populations of the species may go extinct and not be found again. That’s why it’s extremely important to us,” Tonina said.

To be clear, there’s no simple action to reverse reality, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Dr. Tonina explains the magnitude of climate change, from the global scale to our own backyard.

“The first part is awareness. The fact that most of the time when we think of the impact of climate change, we think of areas where humans have disturbance or activity. But if we think about the central part of our state where we have pristine and wild waterways, even those waterways are now feeling the effect of climate change. So even where humans are not present there currently, climate change is so global that it affects them as well. And it’s important for us to recognize that,” Tonina said.

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Teresa H. Sadler