The 35,800-square-mile upper Snake River Basin in eastern Idaho and western Wyoming was one of 20 areas selected for water-quality study under the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. As part of the initial phase of the study, data were compiled to describe the current (1992) and historical aquatic biological conditions of surface water in the basin. This description of natural and human environmental factors that affect aquatic life provides the framework for evaluating the status and trends of aquatic biological conditions in streams of the basins. Water resource development and stream alterations, irrigated agriculture, grazing, aquaculture, and species introductions have affected stream biota in the upper Snake River Basin. Cumulative effects of these activities have greatly altered cold-water habitat and aquatic life in the middle Snake River reach (Milner Dam to King Hill). Most of the aquatic Species of Special Concern in the basin , consisting of eight native mollusks and three native fish species, are in this reach of the Snake River. Selected long-term studies, including comprehensive monitoring on Rock Creek, have shown reduced pollutant loadings as a result of implementing practice on cropland; however, aquatic life remains affected by agricultural land use. Community level biological data are lacking for most of the streams in the basin, especially for large river. Aquatic life used to assess water quality of the basin includes primarily macroinvertebrate and fish communities. At least 26 different macroinvertebrate and fish community metrics have been utilized to assess water quality of the basin. Eight species of macroinvertebrates and fish are recognized as Species of Special Concern. The native fish faunas of the basin are composed primarily of cold-water species representing 5 families and 26 species. An additional 13 fish species have been introduced to the basin. Concentrations of synthetic organic compounds and trace-element contaminants in whole fish collected in the basin during 1970-90 generally did not exceed National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering concentration guidelines or the 1980-81 geometric mean concentrations from samples collected as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Contaminant Biomonitoring Program. Currently, there are no State fish consumption advisories on any streams in the basin, The organochlorine compounds DDT and PCB's were the most frequently detected fish tissue contaminant. Selected long-term data on DDT, its metabolites, and PCB's indicate decreasing concentrations of these compounds. Arsenic, mercury, and selenium were slightly elevated compared with nationwide baseline concentrations and may indicate bioaccumularion in the food chain. Concentrations of most other trace elements in fish tissue were below levels of concerns for the protection of humans and wildlife.