On a momentous day for the river, the wildlife, and the region, the Savage Rapids Dam, known as the "worst salmon-killing dam on Rogue River," was finally and completely demolished on October 9, 2009. People stood on the banks of the river and watched the river rush free for the first time in 88 years, after a legal battle that lasted over a decade.
Earthjustice attorney Mike Sherwood witnessed firsthand this real-world difference made by Earthjustice litigation. "Usually we're trying to stop harmful actions from taking place; it's less often that we get a chance to undo a mistake, to take something bad out, to restore something to the way it should be. I felt hopeful for the coho salmon and steelhead that will now be able to get past the dam to their historic spawning grounds."
Built in 1921, the Savage Rapids Dam was the first artificial obstacle that migrating salmon and steelhead ran into on their journeys up the Rogue River from the ocean. The court agreed that by blocking upstream and downstream migration of the fish, the dam was "taking" those species in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Runs of all five salmon species native to the Pacific Northwest are imperiled, some of them critically. But the removal of one major obstacle gives many some cause for hope.