Dam removal is often proposed for restoration of anadromous salmonid populations, which are in serious decline in California. However, the benefits of dam removal vary due to differences in affected populations and potential for environmental impacts. Here, we develop an assessment method to examine the relationship between dam removal and salmonid conservation, focusing on dams that act as complete migration barriers. Specifically, we (1) review the effects of dams on anadromous salmonids, (2) describe factors specific to dam removal in California, (3) propose a method to evaluate dam removal effects on salmonids, (4) apply this method to evaluate 24 dams, and (5) discuss potential effects of removing four dams on the Klamath River. Our flexible rating system can rapidly assess the likely effects of dam removal, as a first step in the prioritization of multiple dam removals. We rated eight dams proposed for removal and compared them with another 16 dams, which are not candidates for removal. Twelve of the 24 dams evaluated had scores that indicated at least a moderate benefit to salmonids following removal. In particular, scores indicated that removal of the four dams on the Klamath River is warranted for salmonid conservation. Ultimately, all dams will be abandoned, removed, or rebuilt even if the timespan is hundreds of years. Thus, periodic evaluation of the environmental benefits of dam removal is needed using criteria such as those presented in this paper.