One rule that must apply to salmon, regardless of the area and river system, is that the adults must return from the ocean for the run to be successful.
Logic suggests dams are not the problem as is commonly suggested. Coastal rivers with no dams showed such strong declines in those rivers that ODFW closed some hatcheries because of low adult runs. This indicates that the adults were not returning from the ocean while ODFW continued to release sustained numbers of salmon smolts.
Also some of these rivers had very little logging since the runs began to decline. Surely some streams must have had suitable spawning habitat for these adult returns. There is no evidence that the adult returns were normal in Oregon and Washington during this time, even in coastal rivers in wilderness condition and with normal releases of smolts. Also this would indicate no streams with spawning or rearing habitat existed!
I have worked on salmon spawning ground surveys and have observed natural spawning many other years. I have fished in streams and rivers in N.E. Oregon for 70 years. I do not recall a time during the declining salmon runs when there were more adult salmon than available spawning area. Additional riparian habitat was not needed for the low adult runs to spawn or for rearing areas for the limited numbers of smolts which were not produced because of low adult returns. It is also interesting that the Grande Ronde/Wallowa River steelhead program went from almost 0 adults to excess adults returning to the Wallowa Hatchery and adults to the whole system during this same time of “few suitable places to hold and spawn.”
And I can tell you that “if you build it, they will come" does not work IF the adult salmon do not return from the Ocean! That is like building a winter shelter to improve livestock production when the mortality occurs during the summer when the livestock are grazing away from the barn.
Also if you want budget support then you should publish the before and after results so your organization can prove the investment is actually producing more fish and not because of some other cause such as ocean, estuary survival or improved snow packs or …..