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Snake River salmon climb almost 7,000 ft

Snake River salmon swim more than 900 miles inland and climb almost 7,000 feet to reach their spawning grounds — the highest salmon spawning habitat on the planet, and the largest and wildest habitat left in the continental United States. These one-of-a-kind salmon travel farther and higher than any other salmon on Earth — not to mention tackling eight massive dams along the way.

A Snake River sockeye salmon makes it over 900 miles to its spawning grounds.

The Snake is a major river of the greater Pacific Northwest in the United States. At 1,078 miles (1,735 km) long, it is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, the largest North American river that empties into the Pacific Ocean. @Wikipedia

For the past two decades, salmon advocacy group, Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS), has been fighting to protect these endangered fish, battling it out in a case against the federal government and its current federal salmon plan for the Columbia-Snake river basin, and last month the salmon community celebrated a big win. On August 2, 2011, Federal Judge James Redden ruled that the 2010 Biological Opinion for the Columbia and Snake Rivers violated the Endangered Species Act and hasn’t done enough to mitigate the harmful effects of the basin’s dams.

This is the fourth time a federal salmon plan has been ruled illegal in Redden’s court and the judge has instituted more protections for endangered salmon on the Columbia-Snake rivers than the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations combined.

Salmon tackle eight massive dams throughout their journey home.

We need a new approach.

Salmon and fishing advocates, the state of Oregon, and the Nez Perce and Spokane Tribes who opposed the administration’s plan are cheering this crucial ruling and stand ready to move forward. The court’s decision presents a tremendous opportunity. But the real work is just beginning.

The courts have done everything they can do. It’s now back in the Obama administration’s hands. Let’s make sure they get it right!  Take action here.

Redfish Lake was once packed with sockeye salmon, with as many as 30 million fish returning to spawn each year.

Last summer, the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) partnered with Save Our Wild Salmon and photographer Neil Ever Osborne through Tripods in the Mud (TIM), an initiative of the iLCP that helps partner professional photographers like Osborne with conservation organizations to tell the story of a specific region or issue through images.

Osborne spent two weeks documenting this great migration and the surrounding environment that is dependent on these fish. The result was a collection of photos, to be used by SOS, that told the story of this endangered species and why their protection is so crucial.  The images in this post are from this Snake River Tripods in the Mud expedition.
The views expressed in this guest blog post are those of the International League of Conservation Photographers and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Readers are welcome to exchange ideas or comments, but National Geographic reserves the right to edit or delete abusive or objectionable content.


  1. Brian Gorman
    September 14, 2011, 1:40 pm

    The caption on the bottom photo (“Redfish Lake was once packed with sockeye salmon, with as many as 30 million fish returning to spawn each year”) is wildly inaccurate. Historically, tens of thousands of sockeye (maybe in great years hundreds of thousands) returned to the Lake to spawn.

  2. Jenny Siler
    Portland, Oregon
    September 13, 2011, 4:41 pm

    Great photos, amazing story. Get rid of those dams on the lower Snake River! Done right, dam removal can be a win win for salmon and people. The action on the Elwha River provides a great example.

  3. Heather McFarlane
    Purdy, Washington
    September 12, 2011, 4:43 pm

    Help save our salmon by focusing some research on the mix of industrial size geoduck farm planned for a lagoon which sees at least 3 salmon spawning runs occur every year and is home to numerous bald eagle and osprey nests.