One way to save California salmon threatened by drought: Truck them to the mountains and back

In California, it’s not unusual for wildlife officials to truck salmon between their native river habitat and the Pacific Ocean. That’s especially true during droughts, when the Sacramento River runs too low and too warm for the young fish to survive.

But a long-stalled plan to save Sacramento winter-run chinook salmon, a critically endangered species, proposes trucking them twice in their lifetimes. Spawning adults would get a lift from the too-hot Sacramento River over Shasta Dam and be driven up Interstate 5 to a cold mountain habitat in the McCloud River. Later, their offspring would catch a ride back to the Sacramento and head to the ocean to start the cycle again.

A scientist from the National Marine Fisheries Service said the rescue project, which almost got off the ground in 2019 before being called off by the U.S. Forest Service under the Trump administration, is vital to the species’ survival in light of the extreme droughts the state is expected to face regularly with climate change.

“We’re going to be running into years like this again and again,” said Jonathan Ambrose, biologist at NMFS, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’re talking about an animal with only a 3-year life history. So we don’t have a lot of flexibility to work with.”

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