News Articles

Important articles published by national and regional news outlets related to wild salmon restoration in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

klamath1Nov. 16, 2022
The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — U.S. regulators approved a plan Thursday to demolish four dams on a California river and open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat that would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world when it goes forward.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s unanimous vote on the lower Klamath River dams is the last major regulatory hurdle and the biggest milestone for a $500 million demolition proposal championed by Native American tribes and environmentalists for years. The project would return the lower half of California’s second-largest river to a free-flowing state for the first time in more than a century.

Native tribes that rely on the Klamath River and its salmon for their way of life have been a driving force behind bringing the dams down in a wild and remote area that spans the California and Oregon border. Barring any unforeseen complications, Oregon, California and the entity formed to oversee the project will accept the license transfer and could begin dam removal as early as this summer, proponents said.

“The Klamath salmon are coming home,” Yurok Chairman Joseph James said after the vote. “The people have earned this victory and with it, we carry on our sacred duty to the fish that have sustained our people since the beginning of time.”

The dams produce less than 2% of PacifiCorp’s power generation — enough to power about 70,000 homes — when they are running at full capacity, said Bob Gravely, spokesperson for the utility. But they often run at a far lower capacity because of low water in the river and other issues, and the agreement that paved the way for Thursday’s vote was ultimately a business decision, he said.

PacifiCorp would have had to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in fish ladders, fish screens and other conservation upgrades under environmental regulations that were not in place when the aging dams were first built. But with the deal approved Thursday, the utility’s cost is capped at $200 million, with another $250 million from a California voter-approved water bond.

“We’re closing coal plants and building wind farms and it all just has to add up in the end. It’s not a one-to-one,” he said of the coming dam demolition. “You can make up that power by the way you operate the rest of your facilities or having energy efficiency savings so your customers are using less.”
Related What’s happening with the push to remove 4 dams in Washington state

Approval of the order to surrender the dams’ operating license is the bedrock of the most ambitious salmon restoration plan in history and the project’s scope — measured by the number of dams and the amount of river habitat that would reopen to salmon — makes it the largest of its kind in the world, said Amy Souers Kober, spokesperson for American Rivers, which monitors dam removals and advocates for river restoration.

More than 300 miles (483 kilometers) of salmon habitat in the Klamath River and its tributaries would benefit, she said.

The decision is in line with a trend toward removing aging and outdated dams across the U.S. as they come up for license renewal and confront the same government-mandated upgrade costs as the Klamath River dams would have had.

Across the U.S., 1,951 dams have been demolished as of February, including 57 in 2021, American Rivers said. Most of those have come down in the past 25 years as facilities age and come up for relicensing.

Commissioners on Thursday called the decision “momentous” and “historic” and spoke of the importance of taking the action during National Native American Heritage Month because of its importance to restoring salmon and reviving the river that is at the heart of the culture of several tribes in the region.

“Some people might ask in this time of great need for zero emissions, ‘Why are we removing the dams?’ First, we have to understand this doesn’t happen every day … a lot of these projects were licensed a number of years back when there wasn’t as much focus on environmental issues,” said FERC Chairman Richard Glick. “Some of these projects have a significant impact on the environment and a significant impact on fish.”

Glick added that, in the past, the commission did not consider the effect of energy projects on tribes but said that was a “very important element” of Thursday’s decision.

Members of the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes and other supporters lit a bonfire and watched the vote on a remote Klamath River sandbar via a satellite uplink to symbolize their hopes for the river’s renewal.

“I understand that some of those tribes are watching this meeting today on the (river) bar and I raise a toast to you,” Commissioner Willie Phillips said.

The vote comes at a critical moment when human-caused climate change is hammering the Western United States with prolonged drought, said Tom Kiernan, president of American Rivers. He said allowing California’s second-largest river to flow naturally, and its flood plains and wetlands to function normally, would mitigate those impacts.

“The best way of managing increasing floods and droughts is to allow the river system to be healthy and do its thing,” he said.

The Klamath Basin watershed covers more than 14,500 square miles (37,500 square kilometers) and the Klamath itself was once the third-largest salmon producing river on the West Coast. But the dams, constructed between 1918 and 1962, essentially cut the river in half and prevent salmon from reaching spawning grounds upstream. Consequently, salmon runs have been dwindling for years.

The smallest dam, Copco 2, could come down as early as this summer. The remaining dams — one in southern Oregon and two in California — will be drained down very slowly starting in early 2024 with the goal of returning the river to its natural state by the end of that year.

Plans to remove the dams have not been without controversy.

Homeowners on Copco Lake, a large reservoir, vigorously oppose the demolition plan and rate payers in the rural counties around the dams worry about taxpayers shouldering the cost of any overruns or liability problems. Critics also believe dam removal won’t be enough to save the salmon because of changing ocean conditions the fish encounter before the return to their natal river.

“The whole question is, will this add to the increased production of salmon? It has everything to do with what’s going on in the ocean (and) we think this will turn out to be a futile effort,” said Richard Marshall, head of the Siskiyou County Water Users Association. “Nobody’s ever tried to take care of the problem by taking care of the existing situation without just removing the dams.”

U.S. regulators raised flags about the potential for cost overruns and liability issues in 2020, nearly killing the proposal, but Oregon, California and PacifiCorp, which operates the hydroelectric dams and is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway, teamed up to add another $50 million in contingency funds.

PacifiCorp will continue to operate the dams until the demolition begins.

October 27, 2022
By Jerald Pierce Seattle Times arts and culture reporter

As the rain rolls in and we near the holidays, it’s the perfect time to make your way inside to reacquaint yourself with the many offerings Seattle’s numerous museums and galleries have on view. November also marks Native American Heritage Month, and you can honor and celebrate the art born from the rich heritage and history of Indigenous peoples in a number of ways.

From learning more about the history of tattooing to taking in some of Seattle’s iconic glassworks and celebrating the legacy of Indigenous women in the arts, here are a few options around Seattle for viewing and supporting the work of Native and Indigenous artists.

“Body Language: Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest”

The Burke Museum is celebrating the history and artistry of Indigenous tattooing through photographs, cultural belongings and contemporary art in “Body Language.” The exhibit is organized by Vancouver, B.C.’s, Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art and is co-curated by Nlaka’pamux tattoo artist and scholar Dion Kaszas, who is known for using traditional hand tattooing methods including skin stitching and hand poke. The exhibition highlights the place of tattooing on the Northwest Coast, showing both its historical place linked to celebrations and personal identity and its current ability to tell personal stories and create a feeling of belonging. “Body Language” shows how these traditions, which have been previously disrupted and banned, endured through the efforts of folks like the Indigenous artists featured here.

Nov. 6, 2022-April 16, 2023; Burke Museum, 4303 Memorial Way N.E., Seattle; 

“Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers”

Up in the Seattle Art Museum’s third-floor galleries is “Indigenous Matrix: Northwest Women Printmakers.” This installation of contemporary works features the bold graphics and colors of Northwest Native silk-screen prints from several Indigenous women who are inspiring a new generation of Native artists. The installation — which features artists Pitseolak Ashoona, Francis Dick, Myra Kukiiyuat, Jesse Oonark, Susan Point and Angotigolu Teevee — was curated by Kari Karsten, a member of the Seneca nation and an emerging museum professional curatorial intern at the museum. On your way up, stop by the recently revamped American art galleries, a centerpiece of which is “Áakiiwilaxpaake (People of the Earth),” a newly commissioned lightbox portrait from Apsáalooke artist Wendy Red Star.

Through Dec. 11; Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., Seattle;

“Fluid in Nature”

We wouldn’t be talking about Seattle art if we didn’t include some glassworks. Stonington Gallery is presenting the works of three Native glass masters in Washington state: Dan Friday (Lummi), Preston Singletary (Tlingit) and Raven Skyriver (Tlingit). All three acclaimed artists have been featured around the world, including at institutions like the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of the American Indian and the British Museum, and this exhibition centers their role in tying the tradition and imagery of Native cultures with the contemporary glass movement. “Fluid in Nature” invites you to explore the conversation around modernity and tradition while delving into the fluidity and complexity of identity.

Through Nov. 26; 125 S. Jackson St., Seattle;

“this was a densely wooded hill”

As you enter the Henry Art Gallery’s lobby gallery, you will be met by a cascading archive of objects as part of “this was a densely wooded hill.” This installation comes from yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective, an urban Indigenous women-led arts nonprofit (that also has a wonderful selection of online exhibitions available to view). The basis of the installation formed as the organization searched for land after receiving funding to purchase a site in Seattle for transformative land-based arts programming. Over the course of the exhibition, the installation will continue to grow. The installation exists within the broader context of the ongoing displacement of Native and Indigenous peoples and the preservation of that displacement within museums.

Through March 2023; Henry Art Gallery, 15th Ave. N.E. & N.E. 41st St., Seattle;

“Indigenous Art of the Salish Sea”

Head to the Vashon Center for the Arts to check out this group exhibition of artists from or working in the Salish Sea region. The exhibition will include paintings, prints and glasswork, and artist Dan Friday will be giving an artist talk in conjunction with the exhibition on Nov. 6. This exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Stonington Gallery and local Native artists to showcase the unique style of the region’s artists, both traditional and contemporary.

Nov. 4-27; Vashon Center for the Arts, 19600 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon;

Dams.LittleGooseBy Courtney Flatt 
Northwest News Network
Oct. 31, 2022

Somewhere between 300 and 600 gallons of oil has leaked into the Snake River from a turbine system at eastern Washington’s Little Goose Dam, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Oil leaks at dams are a problem environmental advocacy groups have fought in court to stop – a problem that leaders at advocacy nonprofit Columbia Riverkeeper said still needs more oversight and accountability.

“For decades, the hydroelectric dams on both the Columbia and the Snake rivers have repeatedly released oil into the river systems without any consequences and without a concrete plan and actions to catch the oil releases much earlier than what’s playing out right now on the Snake,” said Lauren Goldberg, executive director with Columbia Riverkeeper.

The oil leak at Little Goose Dam went on for 90 days, according to the Corps, a timeline that Goldberg called unacceptable.

However, the oil leak happened in an unusual way that wasn’t caught by the Corps oil monitoring system, said Dylan Peters, a spokesperson with the Walla Walla district of the Corps.

Typically, an oil monitoring system, which manages the supply, drain and storage of oil at the dam, would alert staff to a potential leak, Peters said.

Instead, the oil leaked back into the turbine oil conveyance system’s governor, which regulates the oil monitoring system, Peters said.

“Because the oil was leaking back through the system into the turbine itself, it wasn't giving us the normal readings that you would look for for a potential oil leak. Moreover, it wasn't creating a sheen on any water, which is a physical indicator that oil is getting into the waterway,” Peters said.

After the leak was discovered, technicians installed an oil boom to collect any additional oil. No oil sheen was visible in the water, according to the Corps.

In a news release, officials with the Walla Walla District of the Corps said staff work to respond quickly to oil leaks.

“Our team at Little Goose Dam took appropriate actions to remove the turbine from service, assess and contain the leak. The turbine will remain out of service and isolated from the river until repaired,” said Paul Ocker, Operations Division chief for the Walla Walla District, in a news release.

Now, Peters said, engineers will audit the dam’s oil system and make recommendations to improve the transfer of oil. In addition, what happened during this leak will be incorporated into a leak accountability system in what Peters called a lesson learned.

“We do everything possible to mitigate risks and prevent such leaks. But, even under the best circumstances, oil is difficult to contain and costly to clean up once it does start leaking and entering waterways,” Peters said.

In 2014, Columbia Riverkeeper settled a lawsuit against dam managers to reduce chronic oil pollution leaking from eight dams into the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Then, in 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued discharge permits for four dams on the Lower Snake and four dams on the Columbia River.

In an emailed statement, Bill Dunbar, a spokesperson with the EPA, said the Corps is keeping the EPA informed about the oil leak investigation.

“EPA is continuing to gather information regarding the incident before determining if the spill violates the terms of the new Clean Water Act permit for the dam facility. EPA will conduct a follow up inspections at the dam in the near future,” Dunbar said.

This most recent oil leak at Little Goose Dam is the first major leak since the EPA’s discharge permits set standards of no more than 5 milligrams per liter released into the river per day.

“This amount of oil pollution is not sanctioned by the Clean Water Act, and it really flies in the face of the critical need to protect clean water and salmon and steelhead in the Snake River,” Goldberg said.

Moreover, Goldberg said, it’s disappointing that oil leaks at dams have yet to be solved, calling it another reason to remove the four Lower Snake River dams. Groups supporting dam removal have said that’s the best way to protect wild salmon runs on the Snake River.

“These dams that are alleged to be so clean and green on a regular basis release, in some cases, really large amounts of oil. If it was coming from an individual corporation, it would never be acceptable,” Goldberg said.

CRT Columbia near CeliloPark OROct 05, 2022

By Courtney Flatt

Salmon advocates want negotiators to consider salmon and the Columbia River’s ecosystem as a part of an agreement between the U.S. and Canada.

The agreement, known as the Columbia River Treaty, is around 60 years old. It coordinates flood control and hydropower along the Columbia River. During renegotiations, the United States has asked to modernize the treaty, including considerations for climate change.

However, salmon advocates and tribal representatives would like to see a functional, healthy ecosystem officially added as a third purpose for the treaty, which would expand upon the current flood control and hydropower purposes.

Historically, ecosystem needs, such as salmon passage, have been looked at as costs instead of benefits, said D.R. Michel, executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes.

“It doesn’t have to be either/or. We have an opportunity to correct some historic wrongs with the renewal of the treaty,” Michel said.

Not including tribes in the original treaty discussions and not considering the Columbia River ecosystem were historic wrongs, he said.

In addition, Michel said, a healthy ecosystem would provide economic benefits for the region, including fisheries, restaurants and new bait shops in communities that haven’t seen salmon for at least 80 years.

A study by Earth Economics, a group that quantifies the value of natural assets, highlighted the monetary values of natural assets in the Columbia River ecosystem that Michel discussed. Under a modernized Columbia River Treaty, the study found ecosystem services, such as food and water quality, were valued at more than $190 billion, compared to $3.3 billion provided by hydropower.

It’s important to shift the framing of salmon and ecosystem values from costs to benefits, Michel said.

Moreover, fish passage should be considered as a benefit to the ecosystem, Michel said. The Upper Columbia United Tribes have worked to bring salmon back to the section of the river that’s been blocked by Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams, including releasing and studying fish that have later spawned in the Sanpoil River and made it from Hangman Creek to the ocean.

In Indigenous creation stories, salmon were one of the first beings to offer themselves up to humans, Michel said. As long as people take care of salmon, salmon would take care of people. As salmon demonstrate their instincts to return to traditional spawning areas, they’re holding up their end of the bargain, he said.

“It becomes a responsibility for us to take this opportunity and provide those fish what was taken away from them with the construction of Chief Joe, Grand Coulee, and the dams on the Spokane River,” Michel said.

Moreover, salmon in the Upper Columbia River would help feed bears, birds and other wildlife that are healthier when those fish are in their diets, Michel said. Bringing salmon back to the Upper Columbia benefits more than just tribes, he said.

“What the tribes do doesn’t just benefit the tribes. The things we do benefit everybody in the region up and down the river,” Michel said.

With an updated treaty, the United States and Canada have an opportunity to lean into stewardship, said Jessica Zimmerle, the advocacy director at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based advocacy group.

“Ecosystem function is a way that we can reframe our role as stewards promoting holistic wellbeing. Rather than trying to control the river, we can listen and respond to the needs of the river and all life it supports,” Zimmerle said.

Moreover, advocacy groups argued in a letter to the U.S. State Department, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the U.S. public hasn’t been included in recent negotiation updates.

In addition, the current flood risk management plan will expire in September 2024, which would mean greater uncertainty for the United States by shifting flood control responsibilities from Canada to the United States, said Joseph Bogaard, executive director of the advocacy group Save Our Wild Salmon.

Changing the way flood control operations are run could further degrade river flows and cool water releases for salmon, he said.

“That’s another reason for urgency,” Bogaard said, of taking quick action on the treaty.

[Copyright 2022 Northwest News Network]


Nez Perce.snake.riverBy Courtney Flatt (Northwest News Network)
Sept. 30, 2022 

Breaching the Snake River dams is one major way to protect salmon, according to a final federal report announced on Friday on salmon and steelhead recovery in the Columbia River Basin.

“The common message is clear across all the work: salmon rebuilding depends on large-scale actions, including breaching dams, systematically restoring tributary and estuary habitats, and securing a more functional salmon ocean ecosystem,” according to the report.

This report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages salmon recovery, could have big implications for the fate of the four controversial dams in southeastern Washington, conservation groups said.

Removing the four Lower Snake River dams is the foundation of salmon recovery measures in the Columbia Basin, said Rob Masonis, Trout Unlimited’s vice president of Western conservation.

“If you don’t have that foundation, the billions of dollars that we have spent, and will spend in the future, will not produce the desired outcome of salmon recovery,” Masonis said. “We need to remove the big bottleneck that’s preventing us from realizing the benefit of those investments and that’s the four dams on the Lower Snake River.”

However, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, said the report ignored the opinions of most people in the Columbia Basin.

“The Biden administration is playing politics with its energy future, while ignoring recent data showing spring and summer chinook returns at higher levels than they have been in years,” Newhouse said in a statement today.

The four Lower Snake River dams provide carbon-free energy to the Northwest. In addition, the four dams allow farmers along the river to irrigate crops and barges to reach the inland Port of Lewiston. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, both Democrats, have said these services need to be replaced before the dams can be removed.

However, removing the dams would lead to one of the best chances for salmon recovery, according to the report, especially in the face of a changing climate, which will continue to increase water temperatures and decrease river flows important to salmon survival.

In other cases where dams have recently been removed, such as on Washington's Elwha and White Salmon rivers, river ecosystems improved faster than expected, according to the report.

In the Columbia Basin, the biggest challenges to salmon and steelhead outlined in the report included climate change; degrading tributary and estuary habitat; the hydrosystem; predation from penipeds, native and non-native fish, and colony-nesting waterbirds; and other barriers built by people, such as culverts.

The report outlined mid-range goals for wild salmon and steelhead numbers by 2050 set by the Columbia Basin Partnership task force, which included tribes, agriculture, fishing, and transportation groups.

The task force suggested recovery goals that would reach beyond removing salmon and steelhead from the Endangered Species List, instead aiming for what the task force called healthy and harvestable populations.

The mid-range goals show that the fish would not reach healthy and harvestable populations. Mid-range goals would be on the path to healthy and harvestable populations, which the report called “a substantially more ambitious goal than meeting Endangered Species Act recovery standards.”

To reach these mid-range numbers of salmon, the report identified several core actions, which it indicated would make the best progress in recovering salmon and steelhead in the region. Those actions include breaching the Snake River dams; managing predator numbers; restoring and protecting tributary and estuary habitat and water quality; adding fish passage to the Upper Columbia River, which is blocked by Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams; and implementing harvest and hatchery reforms.

All of the actions must happen quickly and on a large scale, according to the report.

Breaching the Snake River dams would help young fish move faster downstream, according to the report. It would reduce the number of dams the fish must encounter as they head to the ocean, which would reduce stress for juvenile salmon. It’s uncertain, but that additional stress may lead to more of these young salmon dying in the ocean, according to the report. In addition, breaching the dams would create more rearing and spawning habitat.

Moreover, reintroducing fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams and establishing adult and juvenile fish passage into the Upper Columbia River would buffer populations against climate change, according to the report. It would provide access to more productive spawning grounds. In addition, it would benefit other species as salmon are reintroduced above the two dams.

"This is a crucial time for the Columbia Basin's salmon and steelhead. They face increasing pressure from climate change and other longstanding stressors, including water quality and fish blockages caused by dams," said Janet Coit, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries and acting assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at NOAA.

Climate change will deteriorate ocean and freshwater conditions, which is why it’s important to improve conditions that are more directly impacted by people, according to the report.

To buffer against climate change, the report recommended maintaining low water temperatures and appropriate water flows for fish, including adjusting water flows for fish. In addition, to help salmon survival during periods of poor ocean conditions, the report recommended increasing salmon survival and spawning in freshwater habitats. Moreover, the report recommended maintaining and restoring access to habitat that’s more climate resilient because it’s in areas of high-elevation or connected floodplains.

If all of these actions are done, salmon and steelhead should see numbers improve, according to the report.

In all, the report looked at 16 salmon and steelhead runs that spawn upstream of the Bonneville Dam on the Lower Columbia River.

The report didn’t consider funding sources, regulations needed for implementation, or impacts of the recovery measures, including dam removal. Instead, the actions outlined in the report should help inform other dam removal discussions, according to the report.

To figure out which salmon and steelhead needed the most help right away, the report analyzed several criteria, which weighed the extinction risk with the ability to rebuild as the climate changes. Another key factor included the importance to tribal communities.

The highest priority runs included Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon, Snake River steelhead, Upper Columbia River spring chinook salmon, and Upper Columbia steelhead, according to the report. These stocks of salmon make up earlier recreational fisheries and tribal subsistence and ceremonial harvests.

Other prioritized stocks included Upper Columbia fall chinook salmon and Upper Columbia summer chinook salmon. Although these salmon are not listed on the Endangered Species Act, they are important for tribal harvest and recreational and commercial fishing, according to the report. In addition, tribal reintroduction efforts above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams rely on Upper Columbia summer chinook salmon. Salmon haven’t reached the Upper Columbia River since the dams were built.


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?”

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