Important articles published by national and regional news outlets related to wild salmon restoration in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
By Tony Schick (OPB)
Sept. 24, 2022
Reporter’s notebook: Salmon have been endangered my entire life. Here’s what I didn’t realize until I started reporting.
Leavenworth is a charming tourist town, tucked in Washington’s North Cascades mountains and styled as a Bavarian village. I spent a weekend there, noodling around in souvenir shops, snacking on pretzels and soaking in faux-European culture. It wasn’t till after dark, when I headed to the banks of Icicle Creek just outside of town for an interview, that I saw a vestige of what the region once was.
Perched on a plywood scaffold over roaring waters, a Wenatchi father and son fished using long nets made by hand and under the cover of darkness so it was harder for salmon to spot them.
Only a handful of their tribe still fish this way. Dams through the region’s system of rivers have electrified cities, irrigated crops and powered industry. But those dams also decimated salmon numbers and wiped out fishing grounds that were central to tribes’ ways of life.
“My people have had to sacrifice a lot of these things so everybody else can have that,” Jason Whalawitsa, the father, told me as he fished. “We pay for that with our culture.”
When Whalawitsa said “we pay for that,” he meant tribes like his throughout the Columbia Basin who consider themselves the “salmon people.” And when he said “so everybody else can have that,” he might as well have pointed right at me.
I live in Portland, Oregon, the city where I grew up. It sits just south of the confluence of the Willamette and the Columbia rivers on land taken from Indigenous people.
My dad’s foundry supply business — the one that housed me, fed me and put me through school — only existed because of the shipping and manufacturing industries enabled by the river and the dams.
I proposed to my wife on a stern-wheeler on the Columbia River, the tourist boat floating on a reservoir created between two dams, in a spot that used to be a series of rapids where tribes fished.
There’s no one in this region whose life isn’t touched by the fish, whether they think about it or not. We populated towns to fish for salmon and can them. We sacrificed them for cheap electricity. Even the region’s iconic farming and timber industries wouldn’t be possible without salmon, whose dying bodies have enriched the Northwest soil with ocean nutrients.
But for decades the injustice at the heart of that story has been systematically hidden. There was nothing in my history or social studies classes about Northwest tribes. It wasn’t until 2017 that the Oregon Department of Education required schools to teach Native American history. And the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates most Columbia River dams, has its own curriculum for use in schools around the region; it glosses over the damage done to tribes, talking instead about how they’ve worked alongside federal agencies to help salmon recover.
David G. Lewis, a professor at Oregon State University and a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon, has spent much of his career compiling previously untold histories of tribal experiences in the region, rewriting the “white person’s history” he sees in most published works.
“Average folks just do not know how bad that history is,” Lewis said, “the trauma, the abuses, the loss tribes experienced for more than 150 years.”
Before the era of dam building, the most important fishing site for upper Columbia River tribes was a huge collection of waterfalls they called Shonitkwu (meaning “roaring waters”). Downriver tribes had Wy-am (“echo of falling water”). In a case from the early 1900s, the Supreme Court described Native peoples’ right to fish locations like these as “not much less necessary to their existence than the atmosphere they breathed.”
Both those iconic sets of waterfalls, known today as Kettle Falls and Celilo Falls, are gone. Also gone are other, smaller fishing grounds, destroyed by the dams. That’s a blatant violation of treaty language, signed by the U.S. government and tribes, that reserved the right to fish at all usual and accustomed places.
Tribes, who have never stopped fighting for salmon and their treaty rights, are now in negotiations with the Biden administration. Over the next year, the administration says it will decide whether to take the unprecedented steps of removing some dams on the Snake River and reintroducing salmon in areas of the Columbia where they’ve been extinct for nearly a century.
Scientists say that, because of climate change, the time to reverse some of the damage on the Columbia and Snake rivers is, essentially, now or never.
In the early 1900s, after the salmon canning industry had begun to exhaust fish populations, Northwest states sought to preserve the supply for commercial catch — specifically by putting restrictions on fishing by tribes.
This wasn’t an anomaly. “From the time of the founding of the Republic, state governments have consistently maintained an adversary, if not openly hostile, posture towards the Indian tribes and their separate rights.” That was the conclusion reached by Alvin Ziontz, an attorney who spent 30 years representing tribes in the Northwest, in a little-known history of treaty fishing rights he assembled in 1977.
Both Washington and Oregon, according to Ziontz, found ways to allocate nearly the entire harvest of the region’s salmon to nontribal fisheries. They justified it by saying restrictions on tribal fishing were necessary for salmon conservation, even though there’s evidence that before European settlers, tribes actually increased abundance by actively managing salmon populations.
In 1947, as we previously reported, the Department of the Interior asserted that the “the present salmon run must be sacrificed” for the sake of dam building, but it added that “efforts should be directed toward ameliorating the impact of this development upon the injured interests.”
Columbia River tribes, whose traditional fisheries would be located behind many proposed dams, were the most injured interest. But they received almost none of the amelioration, which came in the form of 26 government-funded hatcheries along the Columbia. All but two of those were sited below the dams, to boost commercial and sport fishing nearer the ocean: The fish they made would never swim as far as tribes’ fishing grounds.
Around that same time, after returning from fighting in World War II, two members of the Warm Springs Tribe began hatching salmon to plant in Central Oregon rivers. State officials shut the effort down because they hadn’t authorized it.
For many years, states also tried to prevent tribes from ever harvesting fish produced at government hatcheries. As late as the 1970s, Washington argued in court that tribes had no right to harvest the salmon produced in its hatcheries.
Tribal members fought to assert their treaty rights. And they were jailed for it.
In an infamous case known as the Salmon Scam, 75 Native fishermen were arrested in a federal sting operation claiming their poaching was responsible for 40,000 fish missing from the Columbia River. Yakama fisherman David Sohappy, whom federal investigators cast as the ringleader, was sentenced to five years in prison. It later turned out the fish weren’t actually missing: As the Yakima Herald-Republic reported, they’d been driven away by pollution from a nearby aluminum plant.
In the middle of the last century, as dam building and state policies were driving Columbia River Indian people from their homes and ways of life, a national policy emerged to terminate Native tribes entirely: For 20 years, the U.S. aimed to erase its obligations to tribes by assimilating Native people into cities and white culture and then eliminating recognized tribes, reservations and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. (The policy was abandoned by the Nixon administration, which condemned it as “clearly harmful.”)
In the Northwest, tribes found ways to preserve their culture and adapt to the losses of wild salmon and sacred fishing grounds. They also faced backlash for it.
When we reported on dwindling survival rates for salmon, I received emails blaming Native people for catching too many fish, despite the fact their harvest agreements with states are closely monitored. The same thing happened when Seattle TV station KING 5 reported on salmon and dams in the Skagit River, prompting the head of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife to denounce such blame as “misinformation.”
Similarly, tribal hatcheries have come under scrutiny from federal regulators and wild fish advocates for diluting the health of wild salmon with fish bred in captivity. It’s an ironic dynamic given that the hatcheries were the government’s own stop-gap invention, and that tribes have pioneered hatchery techniques specifically designed to help wild populations.
“Tribes and salmon will not look as they did 200 years ago, so maybe stop expecting that of either, given what we live in now,” said Zach Penney, a fisheries scientist and member of the Nez Perce Tribe.
I spoke with Penney a few months ago, while he was head of fisheries science for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a coalition of four tribes that coordinates fisheries policy. He’s now a senior adviser for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for endangered salmon recovery. Penney said that back when he was a doctoral student, he was asked to explain the tribal perspective on salmon so often that he eventually developed a slide presentation.
In it, he draws a parallel between Native people, who were driven onto reservations, and salmon, who were driven into hatcheries. Both were forced to adapt to unfamiliar lifestyles. And for both, the changes did not bring good things.
As fishing disappeared, Ziontz wrote in his history 45 years ago, the river tribes’ economic position also changed: “From a life of relative plenty and ease, they moved to the position ultimately of poverty and want.”
The harms have outlasted the policies that caused them. Now, as state and federal officials look to address the region’s fish and rivers, they are seeking compromises — without acknowledging the compromises that have already been made.
In debating the merits of dam removal and other measures to save salmon from extinction, elected leaders in the region and Washington, D.C., are taking every measure to ensure that the river’s other users — like farmers, irrigators and power producers — are kept whole in the process.
Penney recalled sitting in meetings in the past few years where tribes were told they’d need to make compromises along with everyone else.
“I think that’s really insulting,” Penney said. “We’ve already compromised our way of life. This has all been compromised already. And you’re asking for more?”
Gathering of young people advocating for the fish planned for Saturday; event will include students from the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and tribal members from elsewhere in Northwest
By Eric Barker Of the Tribune
Sep 23, 2022
Young people from Lewiston and throughout the Pacific Northwest will gather at Hells Gate State Park on Saturday to advocate for salmon and the removal of the four dams that made the community a seaport.
The debate over the best way to save wild salmon and steelhead that spawn in the Snake River and its high-elevation tributaries, and whether the lower Snake River should be restored to its free-flowing state for their benefit, is more than three decades old now. It was raging before many of the participants in Saturday’s event were born.
Growing up immersed in the debate, they have staked a position. Some of them were born into it, like members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation’s Youth Leadership Council. They have been circulating a dam-breaching petition for nearly two years and have gathered just shy of 23,000 signatures. They plan to submit it to President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The petition drive was recently boosted when the rock band Pearl Jam highlighted the effort on social media. The kids have also reached out to the president in a separate letter.
“America made a deal and promised that we would be able to fish forever. We can’t fish if there aren’t any salmon left,” they said in the message sent to Biden.
Scout Alford started the Lewiston chapter of The Youth Salmon Protectors, a group under the umbrella of the Idaho Conservation League with chapters throughout the Northwest that advocate for wild fish recovery. The 16-year-old junior at Lewiston High School said she is passionate about the outdoors and has a desire to protect the planet. Why not, she said, work on an issue that is so central to her community?
“I’ve lived at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers for almost all of my life,” said Alford, who is the daughter of Nathan Alford, editor and publisher of the Tribune, and Joanna Alford, digital marketing strategist for the Tribune. “Salmon have always been something that has been prominent in my life. What better way to contribute to protecting the environment than protecting something that has been so close to me?”
Alford also wants to advocate for her neighbors — tribes like the Nez Perce, with treaty rights to fish for salmon and steelhead.
As much as adults argue over the fish, Alford said she hasn’t received negative feedback from fellow students.
“People around my age don’t really say anything about it. I think people just don’t realize it’s an issue.”
Tanya Riordan of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition based out of Spokane said young people bring vitality and urgency to environmental issues that often proves influential.
“I think young people have an advantage in that they really speak from the heart in a less filtered way than we do as adults on a lot of these issues,” she said. “Because of that, they change hearts and minds in their communities, in their peer groups and of policymakers, very effectively.”
Saturday’s event that will feature both youth and adult, Native and non-Native speakers, is aimed at elevating the issue. Shannon Wheeler, vice chairperson of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, is slated to speak. Other speakers included members of the Umatilla Tribes’ youth leadership council, Alford and Nez Perce elders.
The celebration starts at 10 a.m. with time reserved for young people from various locations and cultures in the Northwest to meet and network with each other. The formal celebration kicks off at 11 a.m. with a series of speakers and will be followed by a served lunch at about 12:30 p.m. A salmon ceremony on the river with canoes will happen after lunch and there will be a community mural project.
The celebration will happen in the midst of the fall chinook fishing season and the front end of the steelhead fishing season. Returns of spring and summer chinook, sockeye and fall chinook are higher this year than they have been during the previous five-year period that was marked by poor ocean conditions and alarming low runs. But the returns, dominated by hatchery fish, remain protected under the Endangered Species Act and well short of recovery goals.
Alford said the group hopes the celebration will help raise awareness among her peers and others in the community.
“It’s just to make a call to action and make our presence be known and that we as Idahoans, tribal youth and youth in general don’t want salmon to go extinct,” she said.
By Matthew Weaver Capital Press
Sept. 22, 2022
U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson continues to promote his $33.5 billion proposal to breach four lower Snake River dams.
Though he has not introduced any legislation, the eastern Idaho Republican says he still supports taking down the dams while replacing the economic benefits they provide to the region.
Simpson responded to questions about the plan from the Capital Press through email.
Ever since you first announced your plan, agricultural organizations have spoken out against it. Why do you think this is?
Simpson: I haven’t seen agriculture groups speak out against the merits or various components of my plan as much as they are vocally opposed to any idea of breaching the four Lower Snake River dams, a position they have held for many years.
I saw a window of opportunity where we in the Northwest could protect all stakeholders, ensure the survival of Northwest salmon, end the ongoing salmon litigation, and live up to our treaty obligations with the tribes.
My plan is designed to protect our water and provide operational certainty for generations of agricultural producers.
I am proud that I was the first to place an actual value on replacing the “benefits” that agriculture and other stakeholder groups receive from the dams. The dams are very valuable, and I determined it would cost $33.5 billion to replace the benefits they produce.
I do not think many of your readers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana realize how they will benefit from my plan. I intend to protect all agriculture affected by loss of the dams and, at the same time, address water quality and quantity issues throughout the Northwest by ending water lawsuits against agriculture for 25 years.
Do any ag groups support the plan?
Simpson: As I mentioned before, agriculture groups seemed reluctant to engage in any discussion regarding the specifics of my proposal that benefit agriculture. It was often hard to get past the obligatory “Hell no.” I get it — nobody likes change.
I am encouraged by the number of farmers from the Upper Snake River Basin who thanked me for driving this discussion because they are concerned about the 487,000 acre-feet of their water being sent downstream to flush salmon over the dams in Washington. That’s water that can’t be used by Idaho agriculture to irrigate crops or recharge our aquifer.
Have you made changes to the initial plan since the first announcement, based on feedback from agricultural stakeholders?
Simpson: As I mentioned, I did not get a lot of feedback on the specifics of my plan from stakeholders. However, there have been a few developments since my announcement.
On the energy side, there is a growing number of large-scale wind, solar and battery farms coming online and in the queue for the Northwest.
On the transportation issue — getting grain from Lewiston and downstream ports to the Tri-Cities — electric rail is advancing much faster than even I expected. Companies such as Caterpillar are now producing battery-electric locomotives and supplying them to Union Pacific. I have said that these will be the answer to protect low-cost carbon free shipping of grain between Lewiston and what could be a new regional high-speed barge loading agricultural transport hub in the Tri-Cities.
What is the status of your plan today? What is the path moving forward?
Simpson: What I am seeing is that others are using and building from my plan. The (Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee) report highlighted many facets of my plan and their recommendations included key components that I laid out if we are to recover salmon and protect all stakeholders.
Thoughts on the Murray-Inslee report indicating breaching of the dams isn't feasible right now?
Simpson: If you boil their report down to a few words, they said it is very possible, very expensive and cannot be done until the energy and stakeholder benefits are replaced. That’s what I said, except that I believe it can be done now and paid for at less cost than the $17 billion we have already invested in unsuccessful salmon recovery and the many billions more we will be spending as they come closer to extinction.
What’s interesting is how differently their report is being viewed, especially their statement that “now is not the time.” Many dam supporters seem to be taking a long-term view that “now” means breaching will not be on the horizon for decades and are applauding Senator Murray and Governor Inslee. The tribes and conservation community seem to be taking a short-term view that “now” means as soon as replacements benefits are figured out the dams can be breached within even the next decade, and they too are applauding the senator and governor.
I’m concerned that the Murray-Inslee report drops the guarantees I insisted on for protecting Northwest agriculture if the dams are breached. We must halt Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act litigation for 25 years if we are going to get farmers, tribes, conservationists, and states working together to improve Northwest water quality and quantity. There is also no mention of my plan to lock in and end litigation against all Northwest dams. They seem to be focusing on solving a lower Snake River salmon problem. I believe we need to solve the whole Northwest salmon problem instead of allowing the litigation target to move to another group of agriculture.
What, in your opinion, is the likelihood of eventual breaching of the Snake River dams? When might this occur?
Simpson: I will be very surprised if the dams are still operating in 15 to 20 years. If salmon extinction lawsuits and politics don’t force the breaching issue, the warming climate may do so by itself.
Witnessing the current crises in the West on the Colorado River, the Great Salt Lake Basin, the Klamath Basin shutoffs, and now conflicts on the Upper Snake Basin — if people think these four dams will be immune from impacts of a warming climate, I think they are gravely mistaken or ignoring realities.
At some point in the coming decades, the dams may not even function as intended due to water volume issues from loss of snowpack or ancillary issues, such as the clogging of navigation channels from continued silting from the devastating forest fires we see in Idaho and Oregon. A federal judge can’t force the breaching of the dams but can halt the Corps’ dredging operations.
What is the likelihood of Congress approving dam breaching?
Simpson: I believe that Congress must authorize the breaching of the dams. I do not see Congress acting unless the benefits to the stakeholders have been replaced.
The wild cards in my mind are the federal courts. We saw 9th Circuit judges in the Spotted Owl Wars shut down the Northwest timber industry in the face of very powerful Northwest politicians. The Klamath Basin farmers have not fared well, and I don’t see anyone coming to their rescue. If dam removal is not an option and the salmon fail to recover, I can envision scenarios where judges are picking winners and losers up and down the Snake River Basin.
Please talk about the importance of this issue for you.
Simpson: Idaho salmon are incredible creatures and do not deserve to be forsaken. When salmon are returning to Idaho’s rivers in abundance, we will know we are doing things right. As I have said many times, man can find a way to do all the other things on the river, but salmon need a direct path to the ocean. Salmon on the John Day and Yakima rivers seem to be able to cope with three and four pools behind the Lower Columbia dams, but the four additional pools of the lower Snake River dams are four too many.
Is there anything about your plan that agricultural stakeholders are misunderstanding?
Simpson: It’s less a misunderstanding and more not recognizing the opportunity that may have been missed. My plan viewed the lower Snake River dams in terms of the “benefits” they produce to stakeholders. We can replace the benefits of the dams, but we cannot replace the salmon.
Any message to farmers?
Simpson: I fear the bullseye is going to move from the four dams in Washington to the water in the Upper Snake River Basin. As we saw, Northwest politicians had no appetite to roll their sleeves up and solve the lower Snake River dam issue once and for all because it affected so many stakeholders. I worry it may now fall on the backs of Idaho farmers in the Upper Snake Basin who currently send 487,000 acre-feet of water down the Snake River for salmon.
We are in serious drought conditions now and in 2034 the current Snake River Basin Adjudication will expire and there will likely be even more demand from tribes and conservationist for our Upper Basin water. The day will come when our farmers finally say, “Enough, we can’t send any more water downstream to flush salmon through the four Lower Snake dams.”
The Upper Snake River Basin is very dry, and we need to immediately begin increasing water storage, expanding groundwater recharge, and enhancing water quality. It’s going to take a lot of work and funding, and I will expect the politicians in Washington and Oregon to step up and help us protect our upper basin water since the water we send downstream benefits their states.
Anything else I should be sure to include in a story?
Simpson: You didn’t ask about the Northwest tribes who have treaties dating back to the 1850s. During this process, tribal members have told me they’ve had a gut full of being taken for granted on two of the issues that matter most to them: water and salmon. I would caution agriculture and energy producers of the Northwest that going forward they should not expect it to be business as usual with the tribes. I think the tribes are done with the historic practice of the federal government, Bonneville Power Administration and states treating them as junior partners when it comes to Northwest water, energy and salmon recovery.
Lastly, I want to make clear I believe we can save salmon and protect farmers and all stakeholders without having to pick winners and losers. My plan would give salmon their best chance for survival while giving stakeholders significant resources for them to maintain the benefits they currently receive from the dams on their terms and in the manner they chose. Working together we can return salmon to their historic abundance and keep all of agriculture and other stakeholders whole.
By Carol Ryan Dumas
Sept. 19, 2022
Pacific Northwest groups representing conservation, clean energy, wildlife, fish and other interests are urging U.S. officials to modernize the Columbia River Treaty to avoid what they describe as an ecosystem collapse.
The 32 organizations sent a letter to the U.S. State Department, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging them to inform the region on efforts to overhaul the treaty and involve citizens and tribes in decisions.
“Chronic hot water is killing salmon and degrading Columbia and Snake River health today, with worse coming. A modern treaty must give Northwest people greater standing and more tools to withstand this rising damage,” the groups said.
Signed in 1961 and ratified in 1964, the treaty coordinates flood control and power generation through a system of dams and reservoirs in Canada and the U.S.
The groups are asking U.S. negotiators to partner with Canada to add “ecosystem function” — the health of the river — as a third, co-equal treaty purpose. They are also urging the administration to include Columbia Basin tribes in treaty governance, matching Canada’s recognition of the role of indigenous nations.
The groups' final request concerns flood control.
The U.S. currently benefits from a collaborative flood risk management plan that is dependent upon assured Canadian water storage to minimize flood risk in the U.S. That critical collaboration ends on Sept. 16, 2024, if negotiations fail to extend it, the groups said.
There are signs that Congress is preparing for an unspecified “called upon” operation of reservoirs after that date, they said.
A “called upon” operation would require the U.S. to ask Canada for storage of floodwaters on an annual basis, as opposed to the treaty’s current six-year assured operating plans.
“Such operations have a high risk of further degrading already inadequate flows and cooling operations from critical reservoirs for salmon, other fish and overall river health. This risk compounds if ‘called upon’ operations take place under the current treaty, in which for 58 years salmon and river health have been at best secondary and at worst ignored,” they said.
The treaty’s Permanent Engineering Board warns the general lack of planning leaves “...no guidance on the operation of the Canadian storage system with significant consequences in both Canada and the U.S. for power generation, flood risk management and social and environmental objectives,” they said.
If a new agreement isn’t reached, the terms of the current treaty will shift responsibility for flood control from Canada to the U.S., potentially forcing operational changes at eight dams and reservoirs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, Brian Brooks, executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, said in a press release.
Given the lack of transparency to date, the groups “are increasingly worried about how the federal government will deal with uncertainties and operational changes while protecting fish and wildlife, honoring tribal obligations and supporting river communities,” he said.
The U.S. lacks comprehensive plans for the shift of responsibility, said John DeVoe, executive director for WaterWatch of Oregon.
“And we have grave concerns that federal agencies will further deprioritize the health of fish and wildlife to manage flood risk. Upsetting operations for fish and wildlife, agriculture, hydropower and other river uses due to inadequate planning and minimal consultation is an unnecessary and unacceptable outcome,” he said.
By Mark Walker
Aug. 31, 2022
WASHINGTON — Two top Democrats in Washington State have come out in favor of eventually breaching four hydroelectric dams in the lower Snake River to try to save endangered salmon runs, a contentious option that environmentalists, tribes and business groups in the region have argued over for decades.
In recommendations issued on Thursday, Senator Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee provided their most definitive stance in the fight to save salmon in the Columbia River basin and honor longstanding treaties with tribal nations in the Pacific Northwest.
A draft version of a study that Ms. Murray and Mr. Inslee commissioned found this summer that removing the four dams was the most promising approach to salmon recovery. The report said it would cost $10.3 billion to $27.2 billion to replace the electricity generated by the dams, find other ways to ship grain from the region and provide irrigation water. But the draft stopped short of taking a position on removing the dams.
In the recommendations, the governor and the senator said that breaching the dams “must be an option we strive to make viable.”
Ms. Murray said in a statement that salmon runs were clearly struggling, and that extinction of the region’s salmon was not an option. But because breaching the dams would need congressional authorization and bipartisan support, she said, there had to be credible possibilities for replacing renewable energy sources, keeping shipping costs down and countering the effects of climate change.
“It’s clear that breach is not an option right now,” Ms. Murray said. “While many mitigation measures exist, many require further analysis or are not possible to implement in the near term.”
Washington State relies heavily on hydroelectric power generated through dams. But the structures have contributed to the depletion of the salmon population, which is critical to the river basin’s ecosystem. In 2019, state lawmakers passed some of the country’s strongest clean energy legislation, committing to cut coal power by 2025 and transition the state to 100 percent clean and renewable electricity by 2045. Removing the dams would make it more challenging to meet those goals.
Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, said that Ms. Murray and Mr. Inslee’s report was always going to reach the conclusion that breaching the dams was the best option for salmon recovery. The report was full of “biased information” and “cherry-picked data,” he said.
“Even so, those who commissioned the report eventually had to face up to the facts: First, the benefits provided by the four dams on the lower Snake River far outweigh calls for their removal,” Mr. Risch said. “Second, Congress — and only Congress — can authorize the removal of these dams, and there is no feasible or bipartisan pathway for congressional authorization of dam breaching.”
Mr. Risch said he was open to discussions on other options to increase salmon populations.
The recommendations from Mr. Inslee and Ms. Murray came a month after the Biden administration released a report on the feasibility of removing the four dams to aid salmon recovery, and another on how the energy they produce could be replaced. The dams, the last of which was built in 1975, provide energy to millions of people in the Pacific Northwest.
Mr. Inslee said there were no workable solutions other than replacing the existing infrastructure and breaching the dams.
“The state and federal governments should implement a plan to replace the benefits of the lower Snake River dams to enable breaching to move forward,” he said in a statement.
The report commissioned by Mr. Inslee and Ms. Murray stated that while there had been strong feelings and disagreements about how to save the salmon, there were also “clear areas of common agreement.”
The government has been in litigation for more than three decades for failing to develop an adequate federal recovery plan after Snake River fish started being listed as endangered species.
In 2016, the courts again rejected a proposal by the federal government to recover the salmon population, urging it to consider a plan that included the removal of the four dams.
Bill Arthur, the chairman of the Sierra Club’s Snake/Columbia River Salmon Campaign, said the question was never whether the dams should be replaced but how quickly it needed to be done. The report from Mr. Inslee and Ms. Murray put the Northwest on a presumptive path to breaching the dams, he said. If Congress moved with a sense of urgency, he added, the dams could be removed by the end of the decade.
“There is no reason, that we can see, that you can’t get the energy replacement in place and appropriate mitigation needed within six years,” Mr. Arthur said. “And then it will take three years to remove the dams.”
Collin O’Mara, the president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said time was not on the government’s side as salmon runs continue to decrease each year. Using resources and funding from the infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act could allow the state and federal governments to develop a comprehensive plan, he said.
“It’s a matter of putting pieces together and making sure no one is left behind,” Mr. O’Mara said. “Unfortunately, there is a track record in this country where the promises are made, but the investment is never followed through.”
Jeremy Takala, the chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Yakama Nation, said the region’s tribal nations were not responsible for the decision-making process that led to hydroelectric dams being put in place. The communities have been disproportionately affected since they were installed; members who live along the river have been displaced by flooding.
“We have to make sure when doing this that we don’t repeat history, so we need to have a voice at the table,” Mr. Takala said of breaching the dams. “We know that it can work; we know there are possibilities. But when we talk about the federal hydroelectric system, we want to make sure the tribes are there, the tribes have input, the science is there, and work from our fisheries are there.”
Aug. 15, 2022
By DEEPA BHARATH
ALONG THE COLUMBIA RIVER (AP) — James Kiona stands on a rocky ledge overlooking Lyle Falls where the water froths and rushes through steep canyon walls just before merging with the Columbia River. His silvery ponytail flutters in the wind, and a string of eagle claws adorns his neck.
Kiona has fished for Chinook salmon for decades on his family’s scaffold at the edge of the falls, using a dip net suspended from a 33-foot pole — like his father did before him, and his son will after.
“Fishing is an art and a spiritual practice,” says Kiona, a Yakama Nation elder. “You feel exhilaration in your body when you dip that net in the water and feel the fish. Then, you’re fighting the fish. The fish is fighting you, tearing holes in the net, jerking you off the scaffold.”
He finds strength, sanctity, even salvation in that struggle. The river saved Kiona when he returned from the war in Vietnam. As he battled addiction, depression and trauma, the river gave him therapy no hospital could.
When he lies on the rocks by the rushing river and closes his eyes, he hears the songs and the voices of his ancestors. The water, he says, holds the history of the land and his people.
“It heals you.”
From its headwaters in British Columbia where the Rocky Mountains crest, the Columbia River flows south into Washington state and then westward and into the Pacific Ocean at its mouth near Astoria, Oregon. Just below the confluence with the Snake River, the Columbia's largest tributary, the river turns through the Cascade Mountain Range, carving out the Columbia River Gorge.
It's a spectacular canyon, 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, with cliffs, ridges, streams and waterfalls. The landscape and colors change dramatically from the brown hills, shrubs and sagebrush at lower elevations to the lush greens of ponderosa pines, fir and larch trees higher up. Eagles and ospreys nest all along the river.
For thousands of years, Native tribes in this area have relied on Nch’i-Wána, or “the great river,” for its salmon and steelhead trout, and its surrounding areas for the fields bearing edible roots, medicinal herbs and berry bushes as well as the deer and elk whose meat and hides are used for food and ritual. That reliance transcends the material realm into the spiritual, as the acts of gathering, consuming and respecting those foods are inextricably linked to the tribes' religious practice.
Yet the river is under threat. Warming waters linked to climate change endanger the salmon, which need cooler temperatures to survive. Hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and its tributaries have curtailed the river's flow, further imperiling salmon's migration from the Pacific upstream to their freshwater spawning grounds. Industrial pollution are also threats; testing by the Columbia Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that aims to protect water quality, shows that fish caught in the area are contaminated with flame retardants; polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs; and heavy metals.
Pollution and climate change are not only threatening the health of the river and its habitat, but also the millennia-old spiritual traditions that hold Native communities together.
“We are the salmon people or river people,” says Aja DeCoteau, executive director of the Portland-based Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents the interests of the four Columbia River treaty tribes — Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Nez Perce — in policy, advocacy and management of the basin. “Without water there are no fish, plants or herbs.”
Each year the tribes honor the salmon, roots, berries, deer and elk — which they believe were originally placed in the land for their sustenance — with what are known as “first food ceremonies.” When children catch fish, dig roots or pick berries for the first time, they are stood up before their elders in the longhouse and recognized as food gatherers.
Elders speak of how streams flow from the mountains sanctified by the prayers of ancestors who went there to commune with the spirits. These rivulets then flow down and merge with the Columbia. If Nch’i-Wána is the main artery of the land, those streams are like the veins that feed it. So even the smallest creek is vital and sacred.
At communal meals, tribe members typically begin and end with water — “You take a drink of water to purify yourself before you eat and you end the meal with water to show respect for what you’ve eaten,” DeCouteau says.
Tribes also use the river's water and rocks for rituals such as sweat lodge purification ceremonies, held in low, dome-shaped structures where river rocks are heated along with herbal medicine.
“After you sweat and pray, there is also the practice of jumping in the river to cleanse yourself,” DeCouteau says. “It’s hard to continue practicing these rituals when the river is so contaminated.”
Whether the day is 100 degrees or nine below zero, Terrie Brigham takes her fishing boat out every day before the crack of dawn. Her family, members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, owns Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks, a bucolic riverbank town of some 1,500 residents about an hour's drive east of Portland. Her grandfather erected the family’s scaffolds in the 1950s.
On a cold June morning, Brigham watches proudly at the scaffolds as her 23-year-old nephew, Brigham Campbell, fights a large Chinook salmon thrashing about in his dip net. He secures the fish and holds it up with smile, and she lets out a loud whoop and captures the moment on her cellphone.
Fishing has been the family’s life and livelihood for generations, but it’s also a big part of her spiritual identity. Brigham speaks of her scaffold as if it were a temple, and her boat an altar.
“To me, the river is sacred. The water is sacred. The fish are sacred.”
Each year when Brigham catches the first fish of the season, she utters, “Thank you, Creator.” Then she puts a rope around its mouth so it can be used in the longhouse as part of the ceremony to welcome the fish back, known as the First Salmon Feast.
That first fish is always shared with others in the community, even if each person might get just a single bite.
Bill Yallup Jr. was 6 when Celilo Falls “drowned,” as he puts it.
Known as Wyam to Native people, the thundering cascade was a sacred place where for 15,000 years Indigenous tribes netted salmon as the fish jumped upstream. It was also their economic nerve center, with the salmon trading for all manner of goods from feathers to copper to wampum, beads crafted from shells.
Yallup’s family came to Celilo Falls from Toppenish, Washington, when he was an infant.
“My mom cooked with water from the river,” he says. “You could hear those falls for miles. It was sacred sound.”
The falls fell silent in 1957 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erected The Dalles Dam, flooding the area and creating the Celilo Lake reservoir. His father brought him to Lyle, Washington, when he was 17. He learned to fish there.
As a young man, Yallup dreamed of a career in Hollywood as a writer and actor. He played a tribal elder in the show “Northern Exposure," a 1990s CBS comedy-drama series about quirky residents of a fictional small town in Alaska that ran for five seasons.
But, the mighty river has an unfathomable pull, and it drew him back. It reminds him of who he really is, Yallup says: “I'm a fisherman."
In his deep baritone, he enjoys telling stories of the river that have been handed down over generations.
A tale he has told hundreds of times narrates how Coyote, one of the most important characters in tribal mythology, brought the salmon back to the big river. The fish had left after a legendary battle between Mount Hood and Mount Adams, both portrayed as women in the story, caused the salmon to drain into the ocean. The fish told Coyote they would come back, but only if they were respected.
Young salmon, or smolts, swim down the Columbia to the ocean, where they grow for between one and five years. Then they migrate back upstream to spawn. Some are caught and become a source of sustenance for the people, and others die and become one with the environment. The cycle repeats over and over.
“The sacredness of this river," Yallup says, “lies in the sacrifice the salmon make each time they fulfill their promise to come back.”
The Whitefoots are a large family spread across the West Coast. The best-known member of the clan, Patricia “Patsy” Whitefoot, is an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women. A member of the Yakama Nation, she often travels along the river meeting family members and attending traditional tribal gatherings.
Her activism is as much a part of her Native identity as her religious practice is.
“If you are Indian, you’ll be political all your life,” she says.
On a recent afternoon, she visits cousins Debra and Sandy Whitefoot, who live near the Bonneville Dam in an “in-lieu fishing site,” lands set aside by Congress to compensate tribes whose villages were inundated by dams.
Many families here live in trailers without restrooms, lights or drains, and Debra, as executive director of the nonprofit Nch’i-Wána Housing, works to provide homes for Native people living along the river.
“My mom saw the world go by at Celilo,” she says, wiping away tears. “We have lost so much. We’re experiencing intergenerational trauma. My hope is I can make a village or a few villages for my people so we can heal and move forward.”
Sandy is smoking freshly caught salmon. She arranges the cleaned and cut-up pieces in trays and places them in a wooden smoking shed by the river. She has a job in a sandwich shop, but this, Sandy says, is “what I do.”
The first fish she ever caught was a steelhead off her father’s scaffold.
“It was one of the most exciting moments in my life,” she says.
Debra's son, Aaron Paul, and his partner, Betty Jean Sutterlict, live by the river as well. When their son, Bennie, finished high school last year, he had his graduation photo taken on the scaffold wearing a vest embroidered with an eagle carrying a salmon. He now attends Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana, and hopes to major in fisheries and wildlife.
Debra is proud of young people like her grandson, who grew up by the river doing homework under a streetlight, and are now going to college to learn about protecting their natural resources.
“They give me hope.”
It was worries over the spring salmon's disappearance from the river that inspired Elaine Harvey to get her bachelor’s degree in aquatic and fishery science. She is also concerned for species like the Pacific lamprey, which has “been around since the dinosaurs” but today faces possible extinction.
Now a fish biologist for Yakama Fisheries, Harvey says what keeps her up at night is what she calls a “race to harness green energy” that has brought multinational corporations to the Columbia.
“Wind turbines and solar farms are impacting our archeological sites, cultural resource sites, wildlife and fish,” she says, pointing to a sacred mountain near the John Day Dam that the Native people call Push-pum. “Our root fields are on that mountain. We could lose access to our food.”
The tribes are also focused on preserving areas in tributaries such as the Klickitat and White Salmon, two glacial rivers that provide cold water for migrating salmon.
Harvey hopes to impart this knowledge and sense of stewardship to her children and grandchildren.
“We travel with kids to fishing stations, hunting grounds and root fields,” she says. “We give them the experience of camping on our lands.”
She connects to the land by sleeping on the ground and cooking on an open fire, just as her ancestors did when they were traveling these lands on horseback and by foot.
Harvey says she will never leave the river because that’s what she was taught by her elders.
“We have a real, deep connection to all these places. Our blood line is here.”
Harvey’s cousin, Bronsco Jim Jr., was appointed mid-Columbia River chief when he was 21 and in that capacity performs longhouse services, first food ceremonies and funerals. He knows many sacred songs, one of which talks about the birth of the first salmon at a spot in the Columbia River.
“God’s authoritative word comes down upon (the salmon’s) body,” Jim says. “He jumps out of the water in a circular movement, and in that one revolution, he was given life.”
Sunlight streams into the longhouse during a recent ceremonial meal with elders at historic Celilo Village. Supported by tall wooden beams, the building has at its center the altar, a rectangle of earth that Jim cleanses with water before the service begins.
Jim is wearing shell earrings and a beaded necklace with the pendant of a horse’s silhouette honoring his ancestors who rode them. His soft, measured speaking voice rises into song, echoing throughout the room. It has no words but is a deep, visceral, prayerful sound capable of evoking goosebumps or tears.
Tribal members seated around a table bearing the first foods — in order, salmon, roots, berries — join in softly, waving their right hands away from their bodies and then inward toward their chests. The gesture harnesses the light and energy around them and delivers it to their hearts, Jim explains. Tribal beliefs forbid capturing these solemn services in video or photographs because that would freeze the prayers in time and prevent their transmission to the Creator.
In Native families that inhabit the Columbia Basin, education about first foods begins at home and continues in these longhouses, accompanied by teaching and ceremony. Deeply held beliefs also dictate the rules of food gathering.
“You can't just casually go out to gather food,” Jim says.
The ceremony for each of the foods is performed at a different time of year depending on when they become available. The salmon are the first to appear in the spring. The roots are ready to be dug in the summer and different berries are picked in the summer and the fall.
Community members are required to wait for that first feast to honor each food before they head out to harvest it. In the longhouse and out in the mountains, the food-gathering is accompanied by song.
“These songs and ceremonies are part of everything we do,” Jim says. “We need the river and these foods in our lives.”
Losing these irreplaceable foods and their sources could cost them their spiritual identity, he says.
"They feed our body and soul.”