Decades of data show that despite billions in taxpayer investment, salmon and steelhead hatchery programs and restoration projects in the Columbia River Basin have failed to support or boost native fish populations and in fact are contributing to their decline.

Oregon State University economics professor William Jaeger and Mark Scheuerell, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington, looked at 50 years of native and hatchery salmon and steelhead return data from the Bonneville Dam near Cascade Locks. The Bonneville Dam is the last of 14 dams on the Columbia River before it empties into the Pacific Ocean, and it is where many salmon and steelhead — those born in hatcheries and in the wild — return to deposit their eggs after one to seven years in the ocean. The two also reviewed decades of spending on habitat restoration and hatcheries programs in the river basin, meant to save the species from extinction.