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A Solutions Table for Columbia-Snake Basin Salmon

Stakeholder talks can save wild salmon and protect communities

sos.people.vertWestern salmon states, fishing businesses, conservation groups and Northwest tribes have been in litigation over federal dams and wild salmon protection in the Columbia Basin for almost two decades. The government's failure to craft an effective, lawful plan has wasted time and resources, and meant persistent uncertainty for both salmon and people.

If we are serious about restoring healthy, fishable wild salmon and steelhead populations, we must find a new path forward. Instead of continuous litigation, it's time for the parties who depend on the river and its natural resources to come together to craft a workable plan that restores salmon, creates jobs and invests in our communities. Take action. 

The Obama Administration and a growing number of Northwest elected leaders in the Pacific salmon states support convening an inclusive stakeholder group to seek solutions that benefit all parties. This stakeholder process should assess regional needs and use transparent and sound science to craft effective solutions that benefit communities and restore salmon to our rivers.

Who currently supports a NOAA's stakeholder initiative for the Columbia Basin?

Soon after federal Judge James Redden's August 4, 2011 ruling invalidated the Obama Administration's 2010/2008 Federal Salmon Plan, calls for a new, stakeholder-driven approach to fixing the problems facing endangered Columbia-Snake River salmon and Northwest communities began to grow. In August 2011, more than 1,100 businesses from across the country asked President Obama to convene stakeholder discussions in August. Soon afterward in November, a bipartisan group of 52 members of the U.S. House of Representatives asked the President to begin talks as well.

A number of Northwest electeds have joined House members Earl Blumenauer and Jim McDermott to publicly support a stakeholder collaboration: Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Washington State Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. The Nez Perce Tribe encourages this type of new process, along with scores of salmon and fishing organizations and tens of thousands of Americans in supporting a salmon solutions table.

A number of regional and national newspapers, including the New York Times, Seattle Times, Oregonian, Daily Astorian, and Idaho Statesman have also editorialized in favor of a collaborative stakeholder dialogue.

Building a successful solutions table

Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition members aren't in charge of designing a Columbia-Snake stakeholder process, but here are our best thoughts on what such a process would look like, based on examining the designs that have worked in other cases.

A stakeholder solutions table should include:

  • The participation and support of the Obama Administration and elected leaders from the Pacific salmon states
  • Representatives with a stake in Columbia-Snake salmon recovery, energy production and use, transportation and agriculture
  • Transparency, sound science, and lawful solutions
  • Independent mediation/facilitation
  • Independent assessment of scientific, economic and engineering issues
  • Direct and equal discussions among all stakeholders and sovereigns

With participation by:

  • Transportation interests: barge companies, ports, shippers and railroads
  • Farmers
  • Representatives of the salmon economy, including recreational and commercial fishermen, and the outdoor recreation industry
  • Labor unions
  • Conservationists
  • Energy producers, providers, and ratepayers
  • Sovereigns, including Columbia Basin Tribes and agencies from the federal government and Pacific salmon states

Different stakeholder processes have forged successful solutions to large, complex regional issues. Some examples include San Joaquin River negotiations (CA), Klamath Basin negotiations (CA/OR), Trans-Alta/Centralia negotiations (WA), Marmot (OR) and Condit (WA) dam relicensing, Great Lakes water quality negotiations, the Penobscot River Restoration Project (ME), and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (FL).

Salmon and Steelhead of the Columbia-Snake Basin


 The Columbia-Snake River Basin was once the most productive salmon and steelhead watershed in the world - up to 30 million fish returned to spawn here each year, nourishing entire ecosystems, cultures and economies. Almost half of these fish began and ended their lives in the Snake River and its tributaries in central Idaho, southeast Washington and northeast Oregon.

Unfortunately, dams and habitat destruction have pushed salmon to the brink. Today, less than 1% of these native fish remain in the Columbia Basin. All Snake River salmon and steelhead are either extinct or listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The decline of these runs has harmed communities and environments along the coast from Alaska to California and inland to Idaho and Nevada.

sockeye-stream-quinnFor nearly two decades, the federal government has failed repeatedly to produce a lawful, scientifically valid salmon plan for this watershed, its salmon, and Northwest communities. Three administrations – Presidents Clinton, Bush, and now Obama – have ignored science and law, pouring billions of dollars into ineffective measures that have failed to protect this vital natural resource. As a result, four of the five federal salmon plans produced since 1993 have been found inadequate and illegal in federal court.

The U.S. District Court found the most recent plan – the Obama administration's 2010 Biological Opinion – illegal because it relied on uncertain habitat restoration projects that might never happen and/or were unspecified. The court ordered federal agencies to develop a new plan by the end of 2013 that considers more aggressive actions such as lower Snake River dam removal, additional river flows, and reservoir modifications.

Now is the time to build lasting solution. And it's not too late: the Columbia and Snake Rivers remain home to some of highest, coldest, and best-protected salmon and steelhead habitat in the world. President Obama, Governors in the Northwest, and members of Congress can help build a solutions table that involves stakeholders in crafting a legal, scientific, and economically viable plan to recover salmon and steelhead, create jobs and new investments, and protect local communities.

TAKE ACTION: Contact the Obama administration and Members of Congress.

For further information: Press releases 

Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.




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