New Hope for Snake/Columbia's Wild Salmon and Steelhead: It's Time to 'Free the Snake' and Restore Endangered Salmon!


In May 2016, the U.S. District Court in Oregon rejected the government's plan for operating federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers because the plan  – the 2014 Biological Opinion (or “BiOp”)  – failed to protect endangered wild salmon and steelhead.  The Court concluded the federal agencies responsible for the plan (NOAA Fisheries, the Corps of  Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration) violated both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Court  said “[f]or more than 20 years, . . . the federal agencies have ignored [prior court opinions] and have continued to focus essentially on the same approach to saving the listed species — . . .  [t]hese efforts have already cost billions of dollars, yet they are failing.”

Three different federal judges over two decades have now rejected five consecutive plans to lawfully manage the Columbia/Snake River dams. ESA-listed salmon continue to face a high risk of extinction. In the federal judiciary’s words, “the system literally cries out for a major overhaul.

This ruling swept aside the government’s long-standing strategy to avoid meaningful changes to the existence and operations of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Judge Simon’s strongly-worded opinion found multiple substantive violations of the ESA and procedural violations of the NEPA. The Court 2016 order requires the agencies’ next plan (due 2018) to substantially strengthen the all-important jeopardy standard, address climate impacts on fish, reduce its heavy reliance on habitat restoration and finally confront the significant salmon mortality caused by federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

To address the NEPA violation, federal agencies must began work in Fall 2016 with Scoping/Public Input - the first step toward producing an EIS that fully, fairly and transparently analyzes the latest scientific and economic information on Columbia/Snake salmon and dams and carefully consider all recovery alternatives – including the costs, benefits and tradeoffs of lower Snake River dam removal. Keeping the agencies honest and on track in this process presents a major challenge for advocates, and will require vigilance and oversight by us, media and our elected leaders in the Northwest and in Washington D.C.

In July 2016, the Court required (1) the National Marine Fisheries Service to produce a new lawful Columbia Basin Salmon Biological Opinion by Dec. 2018; and (2) the “Action Agencies” (BPA, Army Corps, Bureau of Reclamation) to produce a lawful NEPA-compliant DEIS by March 2020 and FEIS by March 2021.

NWPR/EarthFix: Conservation Groups Ask To Stop Barging Sockeye Around Dams

Courtney Flatt, April 19, 2017

sockeyestream 2Helping juvenile salmon migrate out to sea has long been difficult and controversial. Barging is a common way to get the fish around dams. 

The salmon are hauled around eight dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Idaho Conservation groups say this practice harms fish — and needs to stop now.

Seven groups sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agencies to this spring stop sending salmon along their migration route in barges.

“When it comes to endangered sockeye salmon, the science shows that it’s particularly detrimental for sockeye salmon to be barged,” said Zack Waterman, Idaho Sierra Club director.


Oregon Public Broadcasting: Court Orders More Spill Over Columbia River Dams In 2018

Sockeye in RiverCassandra Profita March 27, 2017  

A judge has ordered federal agencies to spill more water over Columbia River dams to help threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, though not until next year after testing.

The order from U.S. District Judge Michael Simon came in response to a motion filed by conservation groups together with the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The groups represent the plaintiffs in a longstanding lawsuit over dams in the Columbia River Basin. Last year, Judge Simon rejected the federal plan for managing dams to protect salmon. Federal agencies are now in the process of writing a new plan.


For Immediate Release - March 27, 2017
Court Grants Increased 'Spill' to Aid Endangered Columbia/Snake River Salmon
Water releases will aid baby salmon migrating to the ocean

Rebecca Bowe | | 415.217.2093
Emily Nuchols | |360.510.8696
Greg Stahl | | 208.721.0596
Joseph Bogaard | | 206.300.1003

PORTLAND, OR — Federal dam operators on the Columbia and Snake rivers must increase water releases over spillways at eight dams to improve survival rates for juvenile salmon migrating to the ocean starting in 2018, a federal court ruled today. Portland U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon found that current operation of these federal dams is causing continued irreparable harm to imperiled salmon and steelhead and that increased “spill” indisputably provides safer passage for juvenile salmon navigating the heavily dammed Columbia-Snake River Basin. In the meantime, the spill in place under court order since the summer of 2005 will continue.

“While we recognize that this relief will not eliminate the harm to salmon and steelhead from dam operations in the long run, we are encouraged that increased spring spill will be granted to reduce irreparable harm to juvenile salmon and steelhead,” said Earthjustice attorney Todd True. Together with the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe, Earthjustice sought the injunction to increase voluntary spill on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisheries Associations, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Idaho Rivers United, the Northwest Energy Coalition and other conservation organizations and fishing business associations.


KUOW: Northwest Tribes Say Salmon Recovery Is Requirement Based On Treaty Rights   

By Emily Schwing <>

Mar 17,  2017  


The state of the salmon population in Idaho’s Snake River was the topic of a passionate discussion during a conference hosted by members of Idaho’s Nez Perce Indian tribe over the weekend.

The Northwest used to be home to some of the world’s largest salmon runs.

“The resiliency of the salmon is so beautiful that I liken the Native American to the salmon story,” Nez Perce Tribe Chairman Mary Jane Miles said.

Miles spoke on a panel discussion hosted by Nimi’ipuu Protecting the Environment, a tribal group advocating for the environment. They highlighted the impact of four federal dams on salmon runs in the lower Snake River.

According to Nimi’ipuu, the federal government has invested more than $15 billion on salmon recovery, without success.

The group said dam removal is necessary to restore the salmon population under sovereign rights outlined in a treaty signed in 1855 between the Nez Perce Tribe and the U.S. Government.

Columbia Basin Bulletin: Listed Steelhead Move Into New Habitat Created By Removal Of Obsolete Dam On Idaho's Potlatch River

March 24, 2017

maxresdefaultWhen a couple of concerned citizens witnessed adult steelhead spawning downstream from an obsolete dam outside a small town in Idaho, local agencies came together to remove the fish barrier and restore passage to historic spawning grounds unattainable for nearly 100 years.

City of Troy’s mayor Ken Whitney said Cliff Swanson lives on the outskirts of this Latah County town 11 miles from Moscow. In 2012 he said Swanson took pictures of steelhead spawning below the Dutch Flat Dam.

Swanson said a friend called and told him about seeing the steelhead. He took several still photos and video of spawning fish downstream from the dam.

Swanson’s video got a lot of attention, Whitney said, and a movement to take out the dam got momentum.

According to Brian Knoth, who oversees Potlatch River steelhead monitoring and evaluation for Idaho Fish and Game, the dam was also on his agency’s radar. Since 2005, Knoth said his agency has been monitoring wild steelhead due to their threatened status on the Endangered Species List. He said the Potlatch’s steelhead is an important component of the larger Clearwater River population, a tributary to the Snake River. Knoth said Fish and Game surveys identified Dutch Flat as a barrier to steelhead passage blocking adults from spawning grounds and juveniles from getting downstream.


Lewiston Tribune: Tribal, nontribal activists gather for environmental conference

ERIC BARKER of the Tribune

Mar 18, 2017

tribalconference2 copyJulian Matthews believes that when diverse groups of people unite over a common cause, their voices can be amplified and their power magnified.

The Pullman man - also a Nez Perce tribal member and board member of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment - pointed to the fight against megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 and the more recent battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline as examples. In each case, tribal members worked side by side with nontribal conservationists to stop powerful corporate interests, and the treaties between tribes and the U.S. government proved to be powerful tools.

But Matthews said that doesn't mean they always understand each other, including the significance of tribal treaty rights. In an effort to increase understanding and to inspire more environmental activism by native and non-native people, his group organized a two-day conference, "Treaty Rights in a Changing Environment," at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston. The conference started Friday and continues today."We wanted to work on building networks and relationships with other people and groups so they understand where we are coming from and we understand where they are coming from," he said.

Michael Preston of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe near the Shasta Dam and Redding, Calif., said the environment is a common cause in which all people have a vested interest.


More Articles...

  1. Mar 12, 2017 - Canoe & Kayak Guest Opinion: It’s Time To Remove The Lower Snake River Dams
  2. Mar 07, 2017 - Media Advisory
: Court Hearing in Portland on Columbia/Snake Salmon - 3.9.2017
  3. Feb 12, 2017 - Columbia/Snake Salmon NEPA Analysis Public Scoping Comment Period: A Summary
  4. Feb 12, 2017 - 400,000 citizens submit comments calling for removal of the lower Snake River dams
  5. Feb 05, 2017 - Patagonia Blog: The Cleanest Line - Free the Snake and Restore Salmon to Honor Treaty Right
  6. Feb 01, 2017 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: More than 250,000 Urge Feds to Do More to Save Salmon
  7. Jan 27, 2017 - KING5-TV: Snake River dams examined after decades of lawsuits
  8. Jan 19, 2017 - The Daily News: Removing dams could affect Cowlitz industry, electric rates
  9. Jan 19, 2017 - Many Dollars and Little Sense: Barging on the Lower Snake River
  10. Jan 11, 2017 - The Daily Astorian: Debate spills over the dams
  11. Jan 11, 2017 - Associated Press: Environmental groups want work halted on Snake River dams
  12. Jan 09, 2017 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Advocates Ask Court to Safeguard Salmon Ahead of Federal Planning Process
  13. Jan 02, 2017 - Oregonian: Shielded Native American sites thrust into debate over dams
  14. Dec 21, 2016 - For Immediate Release: New Report Highlights 10 Wildlife Conservation Priorities for the Trump Administration
  15. Dec 12, 2016 - Chinook Observer Editorial: Say no to standing by as salmon go extinct
  16. Dec 09, 2016 - Lewiston Morning Tribune Editorial: Fishy end run
  17. Dec 08, 2016 - Daily Astoria Editorial: ‘God Squad’ is the wrong idea for endangered species
  18. Dec 08, 2016 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Irrigators want dams off endangered list
  19. Dec 07, 2016 - Idaho Statesman: Lower Snake River farmers seek federal ruling to allow Idaho salmon to go extinct
  20. Dec 07, 2016 - Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Stop studying the studies; breach dams and save the salmon
  21. Dec 07, 2016 - NW Fishletter #364: NWEC Panel Explores Replacing Power From Lower Snake River Dams (2)
  22. Dec 07, 2016 - Daily Astorian Guest Column: An opportunity to push for salmon recovery
  23. Dec 04, 2016 - Tri-City Herald Guest Opinion: Costly dams are harmful to salmon, tribes, and taxpayers
  24. Dec 03, 2016 - KING 5 TV: Future of Snake River dams under microscope
  25. Dec 03, 2016 - KNKX - 88.5 FM: Feds Discussing Snake River Dam Removal At Public Meeting In Seattle
  26. Dec 03, 2016 - The Columbian: Hearings next week on Columbia River salmon recovery
  27. Dec 03, 2016 - Idaho Statesman Editorial: Future of Idaho’s wild salmon can’t be sacrificed for any other interest
  28. Nov 15, 2016 - Spokesman Review: Big crowd turns out in Spokane to talk about Lower Snake River dams
  29. Nov 07, 2016 - Oregonian: Judge's order revives movement to remove Snake River dams
  30. Nov 05, 2016 - CBB: Science Review Of Salmon Survival Study: Snake River Fish Not Meeting Smolt-To-Adult Return Goals 

  31. Oct 29, 2016 - Seattle Times: Another Puget Sound orca dies; hope dim for her calf (2)
  32. Oct 24, 2016 - Spokesman Review: Pressure mounts on Lower Snake dams as fish runs sag
  33. Oct 23, 2016 - EarthFix: Taking Down Snake River Dams: It's Back On The Table
  34. Oct 23, 2016 - Spokesman Review Guest Opinion: We can restore salmon and have carbon-free energy
  35. Oct 18, 2016 - Seattle Times: Environmental effects of Columbia, Snake river dams scrutinized
  36. Oct 06, 2016 - The Seattle Weekly: Washington’s Big Dam Climate Nightmare
  37. Sep 30, 2016 - Call to Action: Court-Ordered Columbia-Snake Salmon NEPA Review: Phase 1 – Public Hearings this Fall!
  38. Sep 30, 2016 - For Immediate Release: Feds Announce Hearings for Public to Weigh in on Lower Snake River Dam Removal
  39. Sep 28, 2016 - Seattle Times: Hydropower isn’t carbon neutral after all, WSU researchers say
  40. Sep 15, 2016 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Pro-salmon advocates plan to launch flotilla on Snake River on Saturday
  41. Aug 31, 2016 - For Immediate Release: 33 organizations ask federal agencies to commence NEPA public comment period after Jan. 1, 2017
  42. Aug 25, 2016 - Spokesman Review: About 35 percent of Snake River sockeye presumed dead
  43. Aug 17, 2016 - OPB Radio: Lawsuit Aims To Lower Columbia And Snake River Temperatures For Salmon
  44. Aug 17, 2016 - Spokesman Review: Hot water poses ongoing threat to Columbia River salmon, groups say
  45. Aug 17, 2016 - Spokesman Review: Hot water poses ongoing threat to Columbia River salmon, groups say (2)
  46. Aug 04, 2016 - Boise Weekly: Dams, Megawatts and Poached Salmon
  47. Aug 02, 2016 - Oregonian Guest Opinion: We can have a clean energy future and wild salmon
  48. Jul 04, 2016 - New York Times Editorial: The Salmon's Swim for Survival
  49. Jul 01, 2016 - CBB: Steps Taken To Cool Warming Lower Snake, Reduce Thermal Blocks As Large Basin Sockeye Return Heads Upstream
  50. Jun 27, 2016 - Oregonian Guest Opinion: Renewed optimism for salmon recovery
  51. Jun 25, 2016 - WAPO: Obama’s advisers just dismantled a key myth about the future of clean energy
  52. Jun 25, 2016 - CBB: BiOp Challengers Urge Court To Reject Feds’ Five-Year Timeline
  53. Jun 25, 2016 - CBB: Hot Summer. Will Sockeye Get Slammed Again?
  54. Jun 22, 2016 - Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Time for Congress to act on dams, Idaho sockeye
  55. Jun 21, 2016 - May 4, 2016 U.S. District Court Ruling: Background and Links
  56. Jun 12, 2016 - Guest Columnist Linwood Laughy: Snake Oil on the Lower Snake
  57. Jun 02, 2016 - Idaho Mountain Express Editorial: Stop dance of death
  58. Jun 02, 2016 - Idaho Mountain Express: Middle Fork could regain role as salmon nursery
  59. May 22, 2016 - New York Times Opinion: Unplugging the Colorado River
  60. May 22, 2016 - Crosscut: Judge: Failed salmon restoration has cost billions
  61. May 15, 2016 - Seattle Times Op-Ed: Federal court decision is a critical opportunity for salmon, energy and communities
  62. May 14, 2016 - Spokesman op-ed: Dam removal has new energy
  63. May 11, 2016 - East Oregonian Our view: Feds are running out of half measures
  64. May 11, 2016 - Lewiston Tribune editorial: What you hear today, you'll hear tomorrow
  65. May 04, 2016 - For Immediate Release: U.S. District Court sides with wild salmon and communities
  66. Apr 25, 2016 - Idaho Statesman: Warm Pacific continues to chop salmon numbers, affecting Idaho, Northwest
  67. Apr 14, 2016 - Seattle Times: Last year’s heat wave doomed nearly all Okanogan sockeye salmon
  68. Apr 01, 2016 - CBB: Army Corps Responds to Fish Advocates - Report underway on 2015 Columbia/Snake warm water, fish die-off
  69. Jan 05, 2016 - LMT: Idaho landscape could be safe haven for native fish
  70. Jan 04, 2016 - CBB: 2015 Smolt-To-Adult Return Data For Columbia/Snake Salmon, Steelhead
  71. Dec 09, 2015 - Idaho Statesman op-ed: Record salmon runs actually a decline
  72. Oct 28, 2015 - Scientists to Administrator Will Stelle: NOAA must act on climate change and salmon
  73. Oct 28, 2015 - Columbia Basin Bulletin: Preliminary 2015 Spring Juvenile Survival Estimates Through Snake/Columbia River Dams Dismal
  74. Aug 28, 2015 - Al Jazeera: Salmon in Idaho Becoming Endangered
  75. Aug 03, 2015 - Seattle Times Guest Opinion: Dead Salmon, climate change and Northwest dams
  76. Aug 03, 2015 - Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Sockeye death toll a predictable disaster
  77. Jul 17, 2015 - Idaho Statesman: Biologists bring sockeye into Idaho on trucks to get them out of hot water
  78. Jun 23, 2015 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Today's Federal Court Hearing on Salmon
  79. Jun 22, 2015 - Seattle Times: Columbia River Basin plan to restore fish runs faces legal challenge
  80. Jun 09, 2015 - For Immediate Release: NOAA’s new plan for Snake River Sockeye falls short
  81. Dec 10, 2014 - High Country News: The great salmon compromise
  82. Aug 05, 2014 - Seattle Times letters to the editor: Salmon recovery: Don’t cut back on dam spills
  83. Jul 28, 2014 - Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker: Renewing Idaho's wild salmon and wild rivers
  84. Jul 21, 2014 - Idaho Statesman: Sockeye draft recovery plan shows just how far away success is
  85. Jun 26, 2014 - Daily Astorian Editorial: Drug addiction and salmon policy
  86. Jun 20, 2014 - Los Angeles Times: Groups sue U.S. agencies, saying plan to protect salmon falls short
  87. Jun 20, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Federal salmon plan contested again
  88. Jun 17, 2014 - For immediate release: Federal agencies squander chance for progress on Northwest salmon
  89. Jun 04, 2014 - The Fight for a Lawful Salmon Plan
  90. Jun 04, 2014 - Columbia Basin Bulletin: Groups Challenge In Ninth Circuit BPA’s Record Of Decision
  91. Mar 28, 2014 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Corps to kill fish-noshing birds
  92. Mar 25, 2014 - Science panel’s review provides pathway to expanded spill test
  93. Mar 05, 2014 - House bill aims to restore science and common sense to federal salmon efforts: Salmon advocates applaud introduction of study legislation
  94. Feb 09, 2014 - Daily Astorian: Editorial: Latest salmon deal is disappointing (again)
  95. Feb 05, 2014 - Spill test is positive response to climate change
  96. Jan 27, 2014 - Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Idaho and its chinook deserve an expansion of water spills
  97. Jan 24, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune Editorial: Feds’ predictable fish plan keeps careers going
  98. Jan 23, 2014 - Idaho Stateman: Salmon, dams will head back to court
  99. Jan 20, 2014 - Lewiston Tribune: Latest NOAA opinion on salmon goes back to well
  100. Jan 17, 2014 - Press Release: Feds squander chance for progress on salmon
  101. Jan 15, 2014 - Scientists to Obama Administration: "New" Federal Salmon Plan a Bust
  102. Dec 15, 2013 - Spokesman-Review Guest Opinion: Columbia River plan fails to protect salmon
  103. Dec 02, 2013 - Oregonian Guest Opinion: Federal Government doing too little to help Columbia salmon
  104. Sep 25, 2013 - Tacoma News Tribune Op-Ed: There's good news and bad news for Northwest's salmon
  105. Sep 18, 2013 - LMT Editorial: Feds' fifth fish recovery plan invites a sixth
  106. Sep 17, 2013 - Idaho Statesman: Feds reject potential way to help salmon
  107. Sep 15, 2013 - Daily Astorian Editorial: Same old story (2)
  108. Sep 12, 2013 - Lewiston Morning Tribune: Feds deal blow to Nez Perce Tribe, salmon advocates (2)
  109. Jul 16, 2013 - Twenty-one groups and business associations ask Bonneville Power Administration to reverse course on planned rollbacks of salmon spill
  110. Jun 22, 2013 - A Brief History of “spill”
  111. May 22, 2013 - All Scientists Are Saying Is…"Give (More) Spill A Chance."
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