Passport
Full Episode
Salmon: Running the Gauntlet

This film investigates the parallel stories of collapsing Pacific salmon populations and how biologists and engineers have become instruments in audacious experiments to replicate every stage of the fish’s life cycle. Each of our desperate efforts to save salmon has involved replacing their natural cycle of reproduction and death with a radically manipulated life history. Our once great runs of salmon are now conceived in laboratories, raised in tanks, driven in trucks, and farmed in pens. Here we go beyond the ongoing debate over how to save an endangered species. In its exposure of a wildly creative, hopelessly complex, and stunningly expensive approach to managing salmon, the film reveals one of the most ambitious plans ever conceived for taking the reins of the planet.

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Narrator: WE'VE ALWAYS RELIED ON CERTAIN TRUTHS -- THE SUN RISING IN THE EAST, WINTER TURNING INTO SPRING, AND SALMON ALWAYS SWIMMING UPSTREAM.

IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER BASIN OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, EVERY STREAM AND TRIBUTARY ONCE TEEMED WITH SALMON.

Man: THEY WOULD COME IN, IN SUCH GREAT NUMBERS THAT THEY CHANGED THE CHEMISTRY OF THE WATER.

Man: THERE WERE MAJOR SALMON RUNS 12 MONTHS OUT OF THE YEAR.

IT WAS A NEVER-ENDING HIGHWAY OF SALMON.

Narrator: BUT NOW, SALMON ARE FISH OUT OF WATER.

INCUBATED IN PLASTIC BAGS, THEY EMBARK OF THE STRANGEST OF JOURNEYS, MIGRATING UP AN IMPOSSIBLE GAUNTLET OF OUR MAKING.

Man: THERE WAS THIS BELIEF THAT HATCHERIES WERE A WAY TO HAVE OUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO.

Narrator: HATCHERIES HAVE BECOME THE SURROGATES FOR THE RIVER -- AND IT'S NOT WORKING.

Man: SALMON ARE IN TROUBLE.

IF THIS CREATURE IS REMOVED FROM THE TAPESTRY, THE TAPESTRY WILL UNRAVEL.

Narrator: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Narrator: HIGH IN THE CENTRAL IDAHO MOUNTAINS, ONE OF NATURE'S GREAT TRAVELERS HAS COME HOME.

AFTER YEARS AT SEA, THIS SOCKEYE SALMON FOUGHT ITS WAY UP THREE RIVER SYSTEMS TO REACH THESE SPAWNING GROUNDS BEFORE IT DIES.

AN IDAHO SOCKEYE'S FINAL JOURNEY IS ONE OF THE MOST GRUELING FACED BY ANY SPAWNING FISH -- 900 MILES INLAND, OVER 6,000 FEET IN ELEVATION.

EXHAUSTED AND JUST SHORT OF THEIR LIFE'S DESTINATION, THEY ARE SCOOPED FROM THE RIVER, WEIGHED AND MEASURED, AND TAKEN FOR A RIDE... 140 MILES, TO A WAREHOUSE OUTSIDE BOISE, IDAHO, WHERE THEY ARE GATHERED WITH OTHERS OF THEIR KIND -- REMNANTS OF A POPULATION TEETERING ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION.

BETWEEN 1985 AND 2007, AN AVERAGE OF ONLY 18 SOCKEYE RETURNED TO IDAHO EACH YEAR.

FISHERIES BIOLOGISTS NOW CAREFULLY CONTROL THE REPRODUCTION OF WHAT WAS ONCE AN ICON OF ABUNDANCE.

INSTEAD OF SPAWNING NATURALLY, EACH NEW GENERATION BEGINS LIFE IN AN INCUBATOR OF PLASTIC BAGS AND PVC PIPING.

THESE ARE NOT FARM-RAISED SALMON ON MENUS EVERYWHERE.

A YEAR FROM NOW, THEY WILL BE RELEASED TO THE RIVER AND THE OCEAN, WHERE THEY'LL LIVE LIKE FISH BORN IN THE WILD.

BUT WHEN THEY RETURN TO THE COLUMBIA, THEIR HEROIC CLIMB WILL BRING THEM... HERE.

ACROSS THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST, FISH HATCHERIES HAVE BECOME SURROGATES FOR RIVERS AND STREAMS, INCUBATING ALL SIX SPECIES OF SALMON, INCLUDING IDAHO'S ENDANGERED SOCKEYE.

'PROTECTING' SALMON HAS COME TO MEAN 'PRODUCING' THEM.

MORE THAN A HUNDRED MILLION ARE RELEASED INTO THE COLUMBIA AND ITS TRIBUTARIES EACH YEAR.

YET, CLEARLY, SOMETHING'S NOT WORKING.

MANY COLUMBIA BASIN SALMON POPULATIONS ARE ALREADY EXTINCT, AND 13 MORE ARE LISTED AS ENDANGERED OR THREATENED.

FROM ONE PERSPECTIVE, HATCHERIES ARE EVIDENCE OF OUR WILLINGNESS AND CAPACITY TO HELP AN ANIMAL IN TROUBLE.

FROM ANOTHER, THEY'RE EVIDENCE OF JUST HOW MUCH TROUBLE THIS ANIMAL IS IN.

OVER MILLENNIA, THE ANNUAL MIGRATION OF TENS OF MILLIONS OF SALMON BECAME A DEFINING EVENT FOR ALL MANNER OF LIFE IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST.

NOW, IT'S THEIR ABSENCE THAT'S SHAPING THE REGION.

THE STORY OF SALMON IS THE STORY OF A CREATURE AT ONCE RESILIENT AND FRAGILE, MANIPULATED AND WILD.

IT'S ONE OF NATURE STORIES OF OUR TIME.

LIKE MANY NORTHWESTERNERS, NOVELIST DAVID JAMES DUNCAN'S BOND WITH SALMON RUNS SO DEEP IT DEFINES 'HOME.'

Duncan: I WAS MOVING DOWN THROUGH THE CREEK BED, DISOBEYING EVERY RULE MY GRANDMA HAD SET DOWN FOR ME.

AND THERE WAS A LOG, CANTILEVERED OUT OVER A DEEP POOL.

I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I'D FIND, BUT I JUST FELT LIKE, 'I GOTTA GO LIE ON THIS LOG,' SIX YEARS OLD.

SO I'M LYING ON THE LOG, AND THIS BIG OLD HOOK-JAWED MALE COHO COMES UP.

IT'S GREEN AND RED.

IT'S GOT THIS GLARING, UNBLINKING EYE.

IT'S JUST LOOKING RIGHT INTO THE HEART OF ME.

AND, TO ME, THAT BECAME LIKE A COMPASS -- LIKE, I WANT TO LIVE WHERE THESE GUYS LIVE.

I WANT TO BE IN THE PRESENCE OF THIS MYSTERIOUS CREATURE.

DON'T FORGET THAT LITTLE ONE THAT'S IN FRONT OF THE DRUM.

Narrator: 'SUDS' SODERSTROM LIVES HUNDREDS OF MILES DOWNSTREAM FROM DAVID DUNCAN.

SALMON FIGURE PROMINENTLY IN HIS IDEA OF HOME, TOO.

Soderstrom: THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST IS SALMON.

IT'S THE HISTORY OF THIS AREA.

YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE HOW MANY LIVELIHOODS THIS HAS SUPPORTED, JUST THIS ONE LITTLE STATION, AND THERE USED TO BE FISH STATIONS ALL UP AND DOWN THE RIVER.

THEY'RE LIKE... EACH ONE WAS LIKE A LITTLE COMMUNITY.

MY FAMILY'S BEEN DOING IT SINCE 1872.

I HAVE A SON AND SOME GRANDSONS THAT LIKE THE WATER, TOO, YOU KNOW.

THERE'S THINGS I WANT TO TEACH THOSE KIDS.

Narrator: THE LINEAGE OF SOME FISHING FAMILIES EXTENDS EVEN FURTHER.

SALMON NOURISHED THE REGION'S NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

WHILE MUCH OF THAT BIOLOGICAL ABUNDANCE IS GONE, A RICH CULTURAL HERITAGE ENDURES.

Woman: IF IT WAS JUST ABOUT SOMETHING TO EAT YOU COULD JUST GO TO THE GROCERY STORE.

IT'S NOT THAT AT ALL.

IT'S BEING OUT HERE AND WORKING HARD, STAYING WITH THE CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS AS MUCH AS YOU CAN IN THIS WORLD.

IT'S NOT JUST THE FISH.

Narrator: FOR MOST OF THEIR LIFE, SALMON TRAVEL THE NORTH PACIFIC, FORAGING THE OCEAN'S RICH FOOD SUPPLIES.

WHEN A MYSTERIOUS INNER SIGNAL DRAWS THEM BACK TO THE COAST, THEY GATHER AT THE MOUTHS OF THEIR RESPECTIVE HOME RIVERS BEFORE TURNING UPSTREAM.

THEY COME IN WAVES, OBSESSIVELY SEEKING THE STREAMS -- OFTEN THE VERY GRAVEL BEDS -- WHERE THEY WERE BORN.

Man: THERE WERE MAJOR, MAJOR SALMON RUNS 12 MONTHS OUT OF THE YEAR.

AS SOON AS THE SPRING CHINOOK WERE DONE, THE SUMMER CHINOOK WERE THERE, THEN THE FALL CHINOOK, THEN THE WINTER COHOES, THEN THE STEELHEAD.

IT WAS A NEVER-ENDING HIGHWAY OF SALMON.

Duncan: THEY WOULD COME IN, IN SUCH GREAT NUMBERS THAT THEY CHANGED THE CHEMISTRY OF THE WATER.

IT'S THIS ORGY OF ABUNDANCE.

Narrator: FOR SOME, HOME IS THE COASTAL RAIN FOREST.

FOR OTHERS, IT'S A HIGH DESERT CANYON.

AND FOR IDAHO'S ENDANGERED SOCKEYE, HOME IS DEEP IN THE CONTINENT'S RUGGED ALPINE INTERIOR.

PAST EIGHT GIANT DAMS, COUNTLESS FALSE TURNS, IDAHO SOCKEYE REMAIN INSISTENT ON THE UNIQUE CHEMICAL SIGNATURE OF REDFISH LAKE -- A COLD WATER WOMB IN THE SAWTOOTH MOUNTAINS, NAMED FOR THE COLORFUL FISH THAT ONCE SPAWNED HERE IN THE TENS OF THOUSANDS.

AFTER EXCAVATING A GRAVEL NEST, THEY SET THE NEXT GENERATION ON ITS WAY.

SOON AFTER, THEY DIE.

Duncan: IT'S AMAZING WHAT THEY DO IN ORDER TO REACH THESE BIRTH HOUSES OF THESE BEAUTIFUL WILDERNESS STREAMS -- EASTERN OREGON, EASTERN WASHINGTON, IDAHO STREAMS.

THEY GIVE UP THEIR LIVES TO PUT THOUSANDS OF THESE LITTLE GLOWING RED BALLS INTO THE STONE SPINE OF THIS CONTINENT.

IT'S THIS LUMINOUS BALL -- IT LOOKS BACKLIT, IT LOOKS LIKE THE SUN.

IN COLD STONE, COLD WATER, THEY FIND A FIRE THAT CREATES LIFE.

Narrator: FOR THE COLUMBIA BASIN, THAT FIRE WASN'T JUST FIGURATIVE... IT WAS TRANSFORMATIVE.

THE FRANK CHURCH RIVER OF NO RETURN WILDERNESS IN CENTRAL IDAHO IS THE HEART OF THE LARGEST ROADLESS AREA IN THE LOWER 48.

THERE ARE NO DAMS BLOCKING STREAMS, NO CHAINSAWS FELLING TREES, NO ACTIVE MINE SHAFTS PUNCTURING ROCK.

HUMANS HAVEN'T LEFT MUCH OF A MARK HERE.

BUT SALMON HAVE.

RANCHER AND RIVER GUIDE JERRY MYERS LIVES ON THE EDGE OF THIS VAST WILDERNESS, NEAR THE SALMON RIVER.

GOT DARK, DIDN'T IT?

Myers: I WAS BORN ON A SMALL FARM AND RANCH IN CENTRAL IDAHO.

I GREW UP LOVING THE OUTDOORS, OF COURSE, AND WORKING IN THE OUTDOORS.

THERE'S A NICE LITTLE SEAM IN THERE.

USUALLY THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME IN THE EVENING.

I'VE LIVED ON SALMON STREAMS MY WHOLE LIFE.

YOU UNDERSTAND BY LIVING OUT HERE THAT THINGS ARE CONNECTED.

AND A BIG, HUGE PART OF THAT IS SALMON.

THIS LITTLE CREEK'S CALLED CABIN CREEK, AND IT RUNS THROUGH MY BACK YARD.

THIS WATER COMES FROM THESE BIG MOUNTAINS.

SNOW MELTS, SOAKS INTO THE MOUNTAINS, SLOWLY COMES OUT IN THE FORM OF SPRINGS AND KEEPS THESE LITTLE CREEKS RUNNING YEAR ROUND.

THIS WATER'S PURE ENOUGH I COULD DRINK IT, BUT IT REALLY DOESN'T HOLD MUCH IN THE WAY OF NUTRIENTS BECAUSE IT RUNS THROUGH GRANITE AND FAIRLY STERILE SOILS.

LIFE HERE NEEDED A KICK START.

AND THAT KICK START WAS PROVIDED BY SALMON.

FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, THE BIGGEST COMPONENT OF THE FOOD BASE FOR THIS AREA WAS SALMON, AND IT TIED THE RICH NUTRIENTS OF THE PACIFIC OCEAN TO THESE MOUNTAINS IN IDAHO.

IT'S PROBABLY EASIER TO NAME THE ORGANISMS THAT AREN'T DIRECTLY AFFECTED BY SALMON THAN IT IS TO NAME THE ONES THAT ARE, BECAUSE EVERYTHING'S AFFECTED.

Narrator: EVEN SALMON THAT ESCAPE PREDATORS NOURISH LIFE.

DEAD ADULT SALMON PROVIDE FOOD FOR SMALL INVERTEBRATES THAT IN TURN FEED NEWBORN SALMON.

THE BENEFITS OF HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF POUNDS OF MARINE NUTRIENTS SWIMMING UPRIVER EVERY YEAR AREN'T CONFINED TO THE EDGES OF RIVERS AND STREAMS -- OR EVEN TO ANIMALS.

Myers: BEARS WILL COME DOWN AND EAT THAT CARCASS, AND THEN BEARS WILL GO UP INTO THE WOODS, AND DO WHAT BEARS DO IN THE WOODS.

AND BY THAT MECHANISM, THEY ACTUALLY SPREAD NUTRIENT UP THESE MOUNTAINS.

SO YOU CAN FIND SALMON-GENERATED MARINE NUTRIENTS IN THESE BIG PONDEROSA TREES AROUND HERE THAT ARE WAY AWAY FROM THE STREAM BED.

BUT THEY WERE SPREAD UP THERE BY ANIMALS.

Narrator: THROUGHOUT THE NORTHWEST, WILD SALMON HAVE BEEN THE CURRENCY OF BIOLOGICAL RICHNESS.

BUT NOW, THAT WEALTH IS SLIPPING -- OR ALREADY GONE.

A RANCHER THAT USED TO HAVE THIS RANCH SAID HE WOULD LAY AWAKE AT NIGHT, KEPT AWAKE BY THE SPLASHING SALMON THAT WERE DOWN IN THE CREEK.

MY WIFE AND I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR NINE YEARS AND WE'VE YET TO SEE A SALMON.

Narrator: FOR MOST NORTHWESTERNERS, WILD SALMON ARE EITHER A MEMORY OR A STORY.

NEITHER FEEDS THE LAND.

Duncan: WILD SALMON ARE NOT SNAIL DARTERS.

SALMON ARE THIS UNBELIEVABLY CHARISMATIC AND BIOLOGICALLY NECESSARY CREATURE.

AND SALMON ARE IN TROUBLE -- AS MUCH AS ANY SPECIES OF PLANT AND ANIMAL IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST.

IF THIS CREATURE IS REMOVED FROM THE TAPESTRY, THE TAPESTRY WILL UNRAVEL.

Narrator: INCREDIBLY, THE UNRAVELING OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER'S TAPESTRY HAS BEEN ASSISTED BY A CENTURY OF EFFORTS TOWARD SALMON CONSERVATION.

IN RESPONSE TO EVIDENCE THAT CARELESS DEVELOPMENT OF RIVER SYSTEMS WAS KILLING FISH, WELL-INTENTIONED PEOPLE STARTED REMOVING THE FISH FROM THE RIVER.

AND THE FATE OF SALMON HAS LITERALLY BEEN IN OUR HANDS EVER SINCE.

MORE THAN 150 YEARS AGO, EUROPEAN AMERICANS ARRIVED IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST EAGER TO EXPLOIT THE SEEMINGLY UNLIMITED SUPPLY OF BEAVER PELTS, GOLD, TIMBER AND SALMON.

THE ANNUAL SALMON CATCH SKYROCKETED WHEN INNOVATIONS IN CANNING MADE IT POSSIBLE TO SHIP TO MARKETS ALL OVER THE WORLD.

OVER-HARVEST... HABITAT LOSS... IT WASN'T LONG BEFORE PRODUCTION AT EVERY CANNERY IN THE REGION WAS IN DECLINE.

SALMON, AND EVERYONE WHO DEPENDED ON THEM, NEEDED HELP.

EXPERIMENTS WITH CONTROLLED REPRODUCTION OF SALMON SUGGESTED THEY COULD BE MASS-PRODUCED IN HATCHERIES -- A KIND OF FISH FACTORY.

Man: AND THERE WAS THIS TREMENDOUS EXCITEMENT BECAUSE THEY WERE ABLE TO GET 90% OF THE FISH, THE EGGS, TO SURVIVE, WHEREAS IN NATURE JUST A FEW PERCENT WERE SURVIVING.

SO THERE WAS THIS IMMEDIATE ASSUMPTION THAT FOR EVERY FISH THAT SURVIVED IN THE HATCHERY THAT WOULD NOT HAVE SURVIVED IN NATURE, YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE ANOTHER FISH BACK.

AND AS A RESULT THERE WERE THESE WILDLY OPTIMISTIC ACCOUNTS ABOUT HOW MUCH MORE PRODUCTIVE THE WATER WOULD BE THAN THE LAND.

Narrator: ALTHOUGH STILL SPECULATIVE, THE DREAM OF UNLIMITED HATCHERY PRODUCTION WAS A CONVENIENT ALTERNATIVE TO DEBATING REGULATIONS ABOUT WHO GETS TO CATCH FISH AND HOW MANY.

Bottom: ESSENTIALLY THERE WAS THIS BELIEF THAT HATCHERIES WERE A WAY TO HAVE OUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO.

Narrator: WATER WAS PUT TO WORK WITHOUT CONCERN FOR IMPACTS ON FISH.

RIVERS, LARGE AND SMALL, WERE STRAIGHTENED, DIVERTED, AND IMPOUNDED.

OVER 400 DAMS NOW CONTROL THE COLUMBIA AND ITS TRIBUTARIES.

IT'S ONE OF THE MOST HYDROELECTRICALLY DEVELOPED RIVER SYSTEMS IN THE WORLD.

MANY DAMS WERE BUILT WITH FISH LADDERS -- ARTIFICIAL RAPIDS THAT ALLOW FISH TO PASS AROUND THE DAM.

BUT THERE WERE SOME NOTABLE EXCEPTIONS -- SUCH AS IDAHO'S HELLS CANYON DAMS, WHICH BLOCKED PASSAGE TO THE ENTIRE UPPER SNAKE RIVER, INCLUDING DESERT STREAMS AS FAR AWAY AS NORTHERN NEVADA.

AND THE GRAND COULEE, WHICH BLOCKED PASSAGE TO THE SPAWNING GROUNDS OF THE FAMOUS 'JUNE HOGS' -- 100-POUND CHINOOK SALMON THAT WERE AMONG THE LARGEST ON THE PLANET.

Soderstrom: YOU GO ABOVE THESE HUGE DAMS AND YOU THINK, GOD, WHAT THIS COULD HAVE BEEN AND WHAT IT WAS.

IT'S JUST GRAVEL BED AFTER GRAVEL BED AFTER GRAVEL BED.

YOU JUST COULD IMAGINE HOW MUCH FISH COULD SPAWN IN THESE AREAS AND THEY CAN'T GET THERE.

WHEN THEY CLOSED THE GATES ON GRAND COULEE, OVER A THIRD OF THE SPAWNING AREA OF THE COLUMBIA BASIN WAS TOTALLY BLOCKED OFF.

THAT WAS THE END OF IT.

FIVE YEARS LATER, THE RUN WAS DEAD.

Narrator: THE LOSS OF EACH RUN IS BIGGER THAN JUST A GIVEN LENGTH OF RIVER.

LOSE A STREAM, LOSE THE ADAPTATIONS SALMON EVOLVED IN RESPONSE TO SPECIFIC CONDITIONS THERE.

ALL THAT DIVERSITY IS WHAT ENABLED SALMON TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE THROUGHOUT THE REGION.

TODAY, THE NATURAL PRODUCTIVITY OF THE COLUMBIA WATERSHED HAS BEEN REPLACED BY OVER 170 HATCHERY PROGRAMS.

Woman: THIS IS CARSON NATIONAL FISH HATCHERY.

WE RAISE PRIMARILY SPRING CHINOOK SALMON HERE.

OUR FISH LIVE HERE APPROXIMATELY 18 MONTHS.

THEY ARE RELEASED IN APRIL OF THE FOLLOWING YEAR.

WE HAVE APPROXIMATELY 1.6 MILLION FINGERLINGS ON STATION AT THIS TIME.

WE DO A DECORATIVE COLORATION ON THE BOTTOM OF OUR RACEWAY SO THAT IT SIMULATES BEING OUT IN NATURE, SO THAT THEY'RE NOT ACCUSTOMED TO LOOKING AT WHITE CEMENT OR GRAY CEMENT; THEY ARE LOOKING AT WHAT THEY WOULD POSSIBLY SEE OUT IN NATURE.

I JUST LOVE 'EM -- THEY'RE WONDERFUL.

[ LAUGHING ] Bottom: THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE HATCHERY IS TO PRODUCE A LOT OF FISH, AND DO IT JUST LIKE WE WOULD AN INDUSTRIAL PRODUCT.

THE HATCHERY IS BUILT AROUND THE NOTION THAT WE DEVELOPED EARLY ON, THAT WE'RE GOING TO MAKE THE OPTIMUM FISH, WE'RE GOING TO RELEASE IT AT THE RIGHT SIZE, WE'RE GOING TO RELEASE IT AT THE RIGHT TIME, WE'RE GOING TO CONTROL THE CONDITIONS SO IT SURVIVES ALL OF THE VAGARIES OF THAT FRESHWATER ENVIRONMENT.

UNFORTUNATELY, THE REAL BASIS OF THE PRODUCTIVITY OF SALMON IS THEIR GENETIC DIVERSITY.

AND THE PROBLEM IS, IS THROUGH THE PROCESS OF REARING FISH IN A CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT GENERATION AFTER GENERATION, YOU LOSE THAT GENETIC DIVERSITY THROUGH INTERBREEDING OR THROUGH SELECTION IN THE HATCHERY OR BOTH.

Narrator: IT'S A BIZARRE TWIST OF FATE THAT OUR TAKEOVER OF SALMON REPRODUCTION HAS LEFT THEM MORE VULNERABLE THAN EVER TO CHANGING CONDITIONS IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT.

NO PART OF THEIR WORLD CHANGES MORE THAN THE SALT MARSHES, WETLANDS, AND TIDAL CHANNELS OF THE COLUMBIA ESTUARY.

HERE, WHERE THE RIVER AND OCEAN MEET, WATER TEMPERATURE, SALINITY, AND FOOD AVAILABILITY VARY SIGNIFICANTLY FROM AREA TO AREA, SEASON TO SEASON, YEAR TO YEAR.

ALL THIS VARIATION CREATES OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHALLENGES, FOR SALMON.

Bottom: IT'S AN AMAZING TRANSFORMATION THAT THEY HAVE TO GO THROUGH TO ADAPT PHYSIOLOGICALLY TO SALTWATER.

HAVING A PLACE THAT THEY CAN LAYOVER AND GROW TO A BIG SIZE IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT FOR THEIR SUBSEQUENT SURVIVAL AT SEA.

OUR MANAGEMENT FOR SALMON THROUGHOUT ITS LIFE CYCLE HAS REALLY BEEN BASED ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT THERE'S SOME OPTIMUM, BUT THAT'S JUST NOT THE CASE.

VARIATION IS CRITICAL TO THEIR RESILIENCE.

THERE IS A LATE-ARRIVING WILD FISH -- WE KNOW THAT BECAUSE OF ITS SIZE.

Narrator: UNFORTUNATELY, WITH FEWER THAN ONE OUT OF FIVE COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON NOW BORN IN THE WILD, VARIATION IS ON THE DECLINE.

Duncan: THE IMAGE I LIKE TO USE IS THAT, WITH THE HATCHERY PROGRAMS WE'RE TRYING TO REPLACE BACH, BEETHOVEN, AND MOZART WITH YANNI, YANNI, AND YANNI.

AND IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK.

Narrator: THOUGH WE CERTAINLY KEEP TRYING TO MAKE IT WORK.

ALL TOGETHER, COLUMBIA BASIN HATCHERIES CONCEIVE IN LABS, RAISE IN TANKS, FEED, WEIGH, MEASURE, SORT, TRACK, COUNT, AND FINALLY, RELEASE OVER A HUNDRED MILLION SALMON EVERY YEAR.

BUT FEWER THAN 1% OF THE JUVENILES WE PRODUCE EVERY YEAR RETURN AS ADULTS.

IT TURNS OUT THERE IS MUCH MORE TO SAVING SALMON THAN JUST MAKING SALMON.

REPLACING SALMON'S SPECIAL GENIUS WITH OUR OWN HAS RESULTED IN EXTREMELY CREATIVE, AND EXPENSIVE, STRATEGIES FOR THEIR PROTECTION OUTSIDE THE HATCHERY.

IT BEGINS WITH THE CHALLENGE OF KEEPING THEM ALIVE ON THEIR JOURNEY TO THE SEA.

THE FIRST THREAT TO NEWLY RELEASED HATCHERY SALMON IS BAD HABITS.

USED TO BEING FED AT THE SURFACE, MANY BECOME FOOD THEMSELVES.

EVEN THE INSTINCTS THEY DO RETAIN FROM THEIR WILD ANCESTRY MIGHT NOT BE AS RELEVANT IN TODAY'S RIVER.

Duncan: THEY USED TO TRAVEL FROM THE HEADWATER STREAMS TO THE OCEAN, FACING BACKWARDS.

THEY WERE JUST -- THEY JUST WOULD HOLD THEIR PLACE IN THE CURRENT, AND THE CURRENT JUST SWEPT THEM OUT TO SEA.

NOW THERE ARE EIGHT DAMS BLOCKING THEIR JOURNEY THAT CREATE ABOUT 400 MILES OF SLACK WATER, OF DEAD WATER.

SO THEY HAVE TO TURN AROUND AND SWIM, FACING DOWNSTREAM, BURNING UP THEIR ENERGY.

SO IT'S A REALLY UNNATURAL SITUATION WE'VE CREATED FOR THEM.

Narrator: A FOUR-INCH FISH ARRIVING AT A 100-FOOT DAM DOESN'T HAVE MANY GOOD OPTIONS.

SOME JUVENILES GET SWEPT INTO THE TURBINES THAT ARE GENERATING ELECTRICITY.

Duncan: THE FISH IS SUDDENLY SHOT DOWN TO A 110-FOOT DEPTH.

THINK ABOUT HOW YOUR HEAD FEELS WHEN YOU'RE 12 FEET DEEP IN A SWIMMING POOL.

THEY'RE UNDER UNBELIEVABLE PRESSURE.

Narrator: OTHERS TAKE THE PLUNGE DIRECTLY OVER THE SPILLWAY.

EITHER WAY, A NUMBER OF JUVENILES WILL DIE AT EACH DAM.

AND SURVIVORS OFTEN FIND THEMSELVES DISORIENTED IN THE TURBULENT TAILWATERS BELOW... WHERE THEY'RE EASY PREY FOR PIKEMINNOW, A NATIVE FISH WHOSE POPULATION HAS EXPLODED IN THE WARM, SLOW WATER BETWEEN DAMS.

IN RESPONSE, AUTHORITIES HAVE ENLISTED THE HELP OF BOUNTY HUNTERS.

HUNDREDS OF FISHERMEN LIKE TIM HISTAND NOW FISH FOR PIKEMINNOW BECAUSE PIKEMINNOW HAVE A PRICE ON THEIR HEADS.

IT LOOKS TOO EASY, DOESN'T IT?

THIS IS FIVE BUCKS.

Narrator: THE MORE PIKEMINNOW TIM TURNS IN, THE MORE EACH IS WORTH - UP TO $8 A FISH.

A FEW HAVE SPECIAL TAGS -- SWIMMING JACKPOTS WORTH $500 EACH.

TIM DOES SO WELL AT IT, HE CAN SHUT DOWN HIS CONTRACTING BUSINESS FOR FIVE MONTHS EVERY YEAR AND HUNT PIKEMINNOW FULL TIME.

Histand: LAST YEAR I CAUGHT 3,650, I THINK, SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

THE YEAR BEFORE, I HAD 4,400.

SO, IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS -- IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS I'VE PROBABLY CAUGHT CLOSE TO 20,000 OF THEM.

SINCE THE BOUNTY HUNT BEGAN, OVER THREE MILLION PIKEMINNOW HAVE BEEN CAPTURED AND TURNED IN.

IT'S A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR A YEAR CAMPAIGN, ONE WE'LL PROBABLY BE PAYING FOR AS LONG AS THE DAMS ARE IN PLACE.

A SIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE OF OUT-MIGRATING JUVENILES PERISH AT EACH DAM.

IDAHO'S SALMON RUN AN ESPECIALLY DEADLY GAUNTLET ON THEIR WAY TO THE SEA.

Martin: THE CUMULATIVE EFFECT OF EIGHT DAMS SAPS THE STRENGTH OF THESE FISH AND CAUSES DELAY IN MORTALITY.

IT'S THE DEATH OF A THOUSAND CUTS.

Narrator: 40 YEARS AGO, THE U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS AND THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE BEGAN AN EXPERIMENT THAT'S GROWN INTO A CORNERSTONE OF SALMON RECOVERY EFFORTS -- FISH TRANSPORT.

AN UNDERGROUND PIPE WITH AN OPENING ABOVE THE DAM FUNNELS FISH TO THE SITE.

THIS AREA'S THE ACTUAL JUVENILE FISH SEPARATOR -- AND THIS IS WHERE WE SPLIT THE LARGE FISH FROM THE SMALL FISH.

THEY GO INTO A BIN AREA AND OUT THROUGH THESE TWO FLUMES.

Narrator: A RANDOM SAMPLE IS CHECKED FOR THE TAGS HATCHERIES IMPLANT IN THE NOSES OF SALMON.

AND THEN THEY'RE ALL TRANSFERRED TO A BARGE OR A TRUCK FOR THE JOURNEY DOWNRIVER.

$50 MILLION A YEAR HAS PURCHASED COLLECTION, PASSAGE, AND TRANSPORT FOR AS MANY AS 20 MILLION YOUNG SALMON.

Duncan: YOU'VE GOT THE SALMON BEING REMOVED FROM THE RIVER FOR 130 MILES TO 'PROTECT' THEM.

THERE'S ALSO A WONDERFUL LIGHT DISPLAY ON THE GRAND COULEE DAM OF SALMON.

IT'S A LIGHT SHOW THAT'S REPLACED A LIVING SPECIES AND A THOUSAND MILES OF RIVER.

WE'RE TRYING TO SELL OURSELVES ILLUSIONS.

IT'S A FORM OF INSANITY.

THERE'S NO EDIBLE VIRTUAL SALMON.

THIS IS NOT A COMPUTER GAME -- THIS IS BIOLOGY.

Narrator: A FEW MILES BELOW BONNEVILLE, THE YOUNG SALMON ARE UNCEREMONIOUSLY FLUSHED INTO THE RIVER.

THE 150 MILES BETWEEN BONNEVILLE AND THE SEA ARE REGULARLY DREDGED TO KEEP THE CHANNEL OPEN FOR TRANSPORTS AND BARGES.

SOME OF WHAT'S BEEN REMOVED HAS BEEN PILED NEAR THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER AS PART OF A SANDY ISLAND, WHICH HAS ATTRACTED THE WORLD'S LARGEST BREEDING COLONY OF CASPIAN TERNS.

TOGETHER WITH THEIR YOUNG, THESE TERNS CONSUME MILLIONS OF JUVENILE SALMON A YEAR, MOSTLY HATCHERY FISH RELEASED ON A DELICIOUSLY PREDICTABLE SCHEDULE.

TO PROTECT YOUNG FISH, THE GOVERNMENT IS BUILDING THE TERNS AN ALTERNATIVE ISLAND FARTHER OFFSHORE.

IF THAT'S SUCCESSFUL, MAYBE SOMETHING SIMILAR CAN BE DONE FOR THE TERNS' NEIGHBORS -- 13,000 PAIRS OF CORMORANTS AND VERY HUNGRY CHICKS.

Soderstrom: WE HAVE CORMORANTS NOW IN HUGE, HUGE NUMBERS.

WE HAVE A WHOLE NEW SPECIES OF CORMORANT THAT'S MOVED INTO THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM TO ATTACK THESE FISH.

Narrator: FINALLY, WHAT'S LEFT OF THE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF SALMON CONCEIVED IN PLASTIC BAGS, RAISED IN TANKS, FED FLOATING PELLETS, AND DRIVEN DOWNSTREAM, HEADS OUT TO JOIN THE COMMUNITY OF LIFE AT SEA.

Bottom: THE IDEA OF CONTROLLING THE ENVIRONMENT FOR SALMON SEEMED LIKE A GOOD THING AS LONG AS WE HAD CONTROL OF THE FISH.

BUT AT SOME POINT, WE HAVE TO RELEASE THEM OUT TO COMPLETE THEIR LIFE CYCLE.

AND ONCE THAT HAPPENS, WE HAVE TAKEN ON FAITH THAT EVERYTHING WE'VE DONE UP TO THAT POINT HASN'T AFFECTED THEIR OPTIONS IN THE FUTURE -- AND THAT'S REALLY NOT THE CASE.

Narrator: IN MOST RESPECTS, HATCHERY AND WILD-BORN SALMON NOW APPEAR THE SAME.

FOR TWO TO SEVEN YEARS, THEY SHARE THIS OCEAN PASTURE.

REGARDLESS OF THEIR BIRTHPLACE AND LIFE HISTORY, ANY SALMON CAUGHT HERE IS MARKETED AS 'WILD.'

BUT THERE ARE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES.

THOSE DIFFERENCES ARE ONLY EXPRESSED WHEN SALMON QUIT THE SEA TO COMPLETE THEIR LIFE CYCLE -- WHEN THE COLUMBIA CALLS THEM HOME.

FOR RETURNING COLUMBIA BASIN SALMON, BONNEVILLE IS THE THRESHOLD BETWEEN THE WILD, OPEN OCEAN AND THE MANAGED, ENGINEERED RIVER.

SALMON HOLD FOR UP TO 24 HOURS AT THE FOOT OF THE DAM, AS THEY PREPARE TO ENTER THE FISH LADDERS.

THE PAUSE ISN'T JUST INCONVENIENT... IT'S SOMETIMES DEADLY.

Soderstrom: THE SEA LIONS HAVE FIGURED IT OUT.

AND THEY FIGURE SOMETIMES 4% OR 5% OF THE ADULTS ARE CAUGHT BY THE SEA LIONS AT BONNEVILLE DAM.

THEY'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT THE OTHER 130 MILES WHERE THE SEA LIONS ARE WORKING DOWN THROUGH HERE, TOO.

Narrator: ABOUT $1 BILLION A YEAR ARE NOW COMMITTED TO COLUMBIA RIVER SALMON RECOVERY, INSPIRING EXTREME MEASURES TO PROTECT THE INVESTMENT'S RETURN.

DURING THE SALMON RUN, BOATS PATROL THE WIDTH OF THE COLUMBIA BELOW BONNEVILLE, TRYING TO DRIVE SEA LIONS BACK TO THE SEA.

IN 2008, 35,000 NON-LETHAL CRACKER-SHOTS, RUBBER BULLETS, AND SEAL BOMBS WERE FIRED AT ONE PROTECTED SPECIES ON BEHALF OF ANOTHER.

FISH THAT ESCAPE PREDATION AND ENTER THE LADDERS PASS BY THE COUNTING WINDOW AT BONNEVILLE.

HERE, WE MEASURE HOW WELL THEY -- AND WE -- ARE DOING.

LATELY, ABOUT A MILLION FISH A YEAR, BOTH WILD AND HATCHERY-BORN, TRAVEL PAST THE WINDOW.

THAT'S LESS THAN 8% OF AN AVERAGE RUN 100 YEARS AGO.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT DECLINE ARE GOING TO PROVE EVER MORE DEVASTATING.

Duncan: SALMON ARE THE EUCHARIST OF THE INDIAN TRIBES.

WE SIGNED SACRED TREATIES FOR WHICH THE TRIBES GAVE UP ALL THEIR LAND.

THEY GAVE UP EVERYTHING THEY HAD IN EXCHANGE FOR THE RIGHT TO FISH.

AND THEY SHOULD BE RECEIVING THE BENEFIT OF THE FISH COMING BACK BY THE MILLIONS.

WE ARE JUST CHEATING THE INDIANS OUT OF WHAT THEY GAVE UP EVERYTHING IN ORDER TO GUARANTEE.

Narrator: ESTIMATES OF LIABILITY TO THE TRIBES FOR LOSING SALMON REACH INTO THE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

BUT IT'S NOT JUST THE TRIBES WHO ARE LOSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

FISHERMEN LIKE 'SUDS' SODERSTROM FACE SEVERE RESTRICTIONS ON WHEN AND WHERE THEY CAN CATCH FISH.

2009's SUMMER CHINOOK SEASON WAS THREE NIGHTS OF FISHING BETWEEN DUSK AND DAWN.

Soderstrom: THIS IS MY LIFE, YOU KNOW?

AND IT'S BEEN MY FAMILY'S LIFE.

IT'S HARD TO WATCH IT DYING LIKE IT HAS.

YOU'VE LOST WHAT BELONGS.

SALMON BELONG.

Narrator: THE DREAM OF UNLIMITED HATCHERY PRODUCTION TURNED OUT TO BE JUST THAT -- A DREAM.

BUT EVEN WERE IT REALIZED, SOMETHING IRREPLACEABLE WOULD BE LOST.

FISH THAT RETURN TO HATCHERIES DON'T FIND A FIRE IN COLD STONE... OR EXPRESS THE RIOTOUS DIVERSITY THAT HAS SO LONG BEEN THE SALMON'S GREATEST STRENGTH.

THEY DON'T FERTILIZE THE ALPINE WOMB THAT WAS, FOR MILLENNIA, EACH GENERATION'S BIRTHPLACE.

Myers: A LOT OF PEOPLE I THINK HAVE A MISUNDERSTANDING THAT ALL THIS MONEY'S BEING SPENT ON SALMON, AND THAT SALMON ARE SUDDENLY BEING RECOVERED.

WE'VE HAD A FEW BUMPS UP IN THE NUMBER OF SALMON THAT HAVE COME UP THE COLUMBIA AND SNAKE RIVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, BUT WHAT THEY DON'T UNDERSTAND IS THAT THOSE ARE FISH COMING BACK TO HATCHERIES.

THEY'RE NOT GOING UP THE TRIBUTARIES, THEY'RE NOT PROVIDING ANY TYPE OF NUTRIENT FOR ALL THE MYRIAD OF STREAMS AND SMALL RIVERS.

SO WE'VE GOT TO BE REALLY CAREFUL WHEN WE TALK ABOUT RECOVERING FISH, THAT WE'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT GETTING BIG NUMBERS OF HATCHERY FISH UP.

THAT'S NOT RECOVERY.

Narrator: WHAT TRUE RECOVERY WOULD MEAN TO THIS PART OF IDAHO IS SOMETHING GREGG SERVHEEN AND HIS COLLEAGUES WANT TO UNDERSTAND.

THE COMPLETION OF THE THREE-DAM HELLS CANYON COMPLEX IN 1967 ELIMINATED SALMON FROM THOUSANDS OF MILES OF STREAMS IN THE UPPER SNAKE RIVER WATERSHED, ENDING THE FLOW OF NUTRIENTS FROM THE SEA.

Servheen: WE'RE LOOKING AT WHAT THOSE ADULT SALMON, THESE SWIMMING FERTILIZER SACKS THAT CAME BACK UP INTO THESE SYSTEMS, DID FOR THESE ENTIRE ECOSYSTEMS.

WE'RE TESTING CARCASSES BECAUSE WE BELIEVE THEY'RE THE CLOSEST TO THE NATURAL RETURNING SPAWNING SALMON, AS WELL AS A MANUFACTURED PRODUCT THAT SIMULATES THOSE CARCASSES.

Narrator: FOR THREE YEARS, THE TEAM WILL TRACK HOW QUICKLY THE MARINE NITROGEN CARRIED BY SALMON MOVES THROUGH THE SYSTEM.

THEY'LL LOOK FOR IT IN PLANTS, IN BUGS THEY CATCH ON STICKY TAPE, IN ANIMALS SUCH AS THE AREA'S BUG-EATING BATS.

Servheen: IT TAKES A TREMENDOUS EFFORT TO TRY AND REPLACE THOSE NUTRIENTS THAT THESE SALMON JUST NATURALLY BROUGHT BACK OVER THOUSANDS OF YEARS.

AND THEY DID IT ALL WITHOUT PAY OR RECOMPENSE OF ANY SORT.

Narrator: WE CAN NEVER HOPE TO FERTILIZE THE LAND AS EFFECTIVELY AS WILD SALMON ONCE DID, BUT WE CAN MAKE IT EASIER FOR SALMON TO TAKE UP THE TASK AGAIN.

Crowd: FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE!

Narrator: OF THE 79,000 DAMS ON AMERICAN RIVERS, MANY ARE OLD AND EXPENSIVE TO MAINTAIN.

AND MANY, LIKE SAVAGE RAPIDS DAM ON OREGON'S ROGUE RIVER, BLOCK SALMON FROM SPAWNING STREAMS.

IN 2009, SAVAGE RAPIDS JOINED THE GROWING LIST OF DAMS THAT HAVE BEEN TAKEN DOWN.

WHEN IT WAS, THE ROGUE RAN FREE FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 80 YEARS.

I'M JIM MARTIN.

I'M SO HAPPY TO BE HERE.

Narrator: JIM MARTIN WAS AMONG THOSE WHO GATHERED FOR A CELEBRATORY FLOAT OVER THE STRETCH OF RIVER WHERE THE DAM ONCE STOOD.

Martin: THE BEST ESTIMATE IS THAT REMOVING SAVAGE RAPIDS DAM FROM THE ROGUE RIVER WILL INCREASE THE SALMON AND STEELHEAD POPULATIONS BY ROUGHLY 20%. Narrator: IN THE NORTHWEST, EVERY STREAM THAT'S RESTORED INCREASES THE POSSIBILITIES FOR SALMON... AND FOR PEOPLE.

Bottom: PART OF THAT ECOSYSTEM THAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT RESTORING IS THE ONE IN WHICH WE LIVE.

IT'S DEFINITELY NOT JUST A SCIENTIFIC PROBLEM.

IT'S A QUESTION OF WHAT KIND OF WORLD PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE IN.

Narrator: RANCHER DOUG McDANIEL OF WALLOWA, OREGON, WANTS THAT WORLD TO INCLUDE WILD SALMON.

HE AND HUNDREDS OF OTHER LANDOWNERS ARE WORKING WITH LOCAL WATERSHED ASSOCIATIONS TO RESTORE STREAMS TO A MORE NATURAL STATE.

DOUG REMEMBERS FISHING THIS STREAM AS A CHILD, BACK BEFORE IT, AND MANY OTHERS IN THE NORTHWEST, WERE STRAIGHTENED IN THE '40s AND '50s.

McDaniel: AS A BOY, THIS RIVER WAS FULL OF TREES AND LOGS AND BIG HOLES AND WASHES HERE AND THERE, AND IT RAN ALL OVER THE PLACE AND IT WAS FANTASTIC FISHING.

ANYTHING WE CAN DO IN THESE STREAMS TO BRING THAT BACK, I THINK IT JUST MAKES A LOT OF SENSE.

AN INCREASE IN SALMON WOULD MEAN AN INCREASE IN THE HEALTH OF THE STREAMS.

Narrator: CURVES AND POOLS AND ROCKS WERE ADDED TO DOUG'S STRETCH OF THE RIVER, AND WOODY STRUCTURE WAS WORKED INTO THE BANKS.

AND NOW HE HAS JUST THE SORT OF STREAM A SPAWNING FISH WOULD HAPPILY CALL HOME.

IN OREGON ALONE, MORE THAN 3,500 STREAM MILES HAVE BEEN RESTORED.

THERE ARE EVEN RESTORATION EFFORTS UNDERWAY IN THE ESTUARY.

GENERALLY, FISH RUNS RECOVER QUICKLY WHEN GIVEN THE CHANCE.

Duncan: I'VE SEEN SOME OF THESE STREAMS RECOVER AND HAVE RUNS OF TENS OF THOUSANDS OF FISH.

AND IT'S UNBELIEVABLE HOW THAT UNIFIES EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WATERSHED.

I'VE SEEN THESE EVENTS WHERE PEOPLE ARE OUT THERE RECLAIMING STREAMS THAT HAVE BEEN TURNED INTO DITCHES BY DREDGING, AND YOU SEE AN OLD RUSH LIMBAUGH-LOVING FARMER AND A GREEN-HAIRED PUNK LAUGHING AND TELLING STORIES.

I MEAN, THAT'S PRETTY GREAT.

Narrator: INSPIRED BY THE SUCCESSFUL RESTORATION OF LOCAL SPAWNING STREAMS, MANY IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST ARE EXCITED ABOUT AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CHANGE AT THE REGIONAL LEVEL.

THE FOUR DAMS ON THE LOWER SNAKE RIVER WERE CONSTRUCTED PRIMARILY AS NAVIGATION LOCKS IN THE '60s AND '70s.

THEY DISRUPT MIGRATION TO AND FROM SOME OF THE HEALTHIEST HABITAT REMAINING IN THE COLUMBIA RIVER WATERSHED.

Duncan: THE LOWER SNAKE RIVER DAMS TAKES THINGS INTO A WHOLE DIFFERENT DIMENSION.

BY SIMPLY REMOVING THESE FOUR COLD WAR CONCEIVED DAMS ON THE LOWER SNAKE, YOU HAVE DONE WHAT THESE HEROES HAVE DONE ON THESE SMALL WATERSHEDS TO 5,500 MILES OF BEAUTIFUL WILDERNESS STREAMS THAT COULD LITERALLY SUPPORT MILLIONS OF SALMON.

IT'S SO SIMPLE -- IT'S JUST SIMPLE.

IF THE FOUR LOWER SNAKE RIVER DAMS WERE REMOVED, IT WOULD BE THE LARGEST WILD SALMON RECOVERY PROJECT THAT'S WORKABLE ON EARTH AT A TIME WHEN THE OCEANS ARE IN CRISIS.

Narrator: SIMPLE DOESN'T MEAN EASY.

UNTANGLING A CENTURY OF CLEVER ALTERNATIVES TO SALMON SWIMMING UP AND DOWN STREAMS WILL MEAN EMBRACING A DIFFERENT SET OF CHALLENGES.

Myers: FOR US TO TACKLE THIS SALMON PROBLEM, WE HAVE TO WORK ON THE THINGS THAT WE'RE GOOD AT -- BETTER WAYS TO GENERATE ELECTRICITY, TO WATER FIELDS, TO GET COMMODITIES TO THE COAST.

WE CAN DO THOSE THINGS.

AND IF WE GIVE NATURE A CHANCE TO RECOVER THESE FISH, IT WILL HAPPEN.

Narrator: IN THE SUMMER OF 2006, ONLY THREE SOCKEYE PASSED ABOVE ALL EIGHT DAMS AND COMPLETED THEIR 900-MILE ODYSSEY TO IDAHO.

CITING POOR RETURNS, AN ADVISORY PANEL NICKNAMED THE 'GOD SQUAD' RECOMMENDED ENDING THE CAPTIVE BREEDING PROGRAM FOR IDAHO'S ICONIC SALMON.

BUT JUST WHEN HOPE, AND FISH, WERE ALMOST EXTINCT, WE WERE REMINDED OF THE RESILIENCE OF WHAT WE'VE BEEN WORKING SO HARD TO SAVE.

IN THE SPRING OF 2008, A FEDERAL JUDGE ORDERED THE COLUMBIA AND SNAKE RIVER DAMS TO SPILL WATER FROM THEIR RESERVOIRS.

FOR A FEW MONTHS, THE SYSTEM WAS MANAGED TO ACT LIKE A RIVER AGAIN.

WATER FLOWED.

AND JUVENILE SALMON FOUND THEMSELVES POINTED INTO A CURRENT, MIGRATING TO THE SEA.

FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS, PEOPLE CONTINUED THEIR SALMON POLICY BATTLES IN COURTROOMS AND STATEHOUSES.

THE SALMON, INDIFFERENT TO IT ALL, AFFIRMED THEIR PURPOSE THE ONLY WAY THEY COULD.

IN THE SUMMER OF 2010, MORE THAN 1,300 SOCKEYE RETURNED TO THE CREEK BELOW REDFISH LAKE -- THE BEST YEAR FOR RETURNS SINCE THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE DAMS.

ALTHOUGH IT'S ONLY A FRACTION OF A PERCENT OF HISTORIC RUNS IN THE TENS OF THOUSANDS, THE MAGNITUDE OF THE IMPROVEMENT SHOWED US THAT IT'S NOT TOO LATE FOR SALMON.

Martin: SIX MILLION YEARS OF EVOLUTION IN THESE STREAMS, TEN THOUSAND YEARS OF EVOLUTION SINCE THE LAST GLACIER -- ARE WE GOING TO THROW IT ALL AWAY IN ONE GENERATION AND LEAVE NOTHING FOR OUR CHILDREN?

IF THE FISH WERE IN ANY WORSE SHAPE, THEY WOULDN'T BE SAVEABLE.

AND, IF THEY WERE IN ANY BETTER SHAPE, MOST PEOPLE WOULDN'T CARE AS MUCH.

THIS IS THE TIME.

Narrator: EVEN AS THE REGION CELEBRATED THE SIZE OF THE RETURN, A SIMPLE, HUMBLE ACT EXPRESSED A TURNING POINT THAT MAY BE EVEN MORE PROFOUND.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN DECADES, IDAHO FISH AND GAME DIDN'T TAKE EVERY RETURNING SOCKEYE TO THE HATCHERY.

MINDFUL THAT THE JOURNEY TO TRUE RECOVERY TAKES THEM BACK WHERE THEY BEGAN, BIOLOGISTS RELEASED SOME SOCKEYE TO SPAWN NATURALLY IN REDFISH LAKE -- WHICH WELCOMED THEM HOME.