By Tony Malmberg
Mar 16, 2021
I am a Northeast Oregon rancher on Catherine Creek, in the Snake River Basin, and I face challenges that are much the same as the Snake River salmon.
We both have to rely on outdated and often obsolete technology, infrastructure and strategies to survive. Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson’s forward-looking “Energy and Salmon Concept” to upgrade and modernize
the Snake River Basin’s and Pacific Northwest’s agriculture, infrastructure, energy and transportation systems can help the salmon, while supporting our region’s agriculture, energy and transportation
Salmon and steelhead are not recovering in our Grande Ronde watershed, or other tributaries of the lower Snake River. The numbers show clearly that the eight main stem dams on the Columbia and Snake are
simply too many. Salmon in the John Day River, for example, that cross three dams, see adult return rates four times better than Snake River fish crossing eight.
This cannot be sustainable for salmon, steelhead or conservation.
Fish that brave the dam gauntlet travel more than 650 miles of river from our place on Catherine Creek to the Pacific. High water temperature, lack of habitat for cover and food, and low stream flows further perplex their life cycle. These same issues cause problems for ranchers in these headwaters. To get a loop around potential solutions, we can reset our thinking and plan 50 years down the road, with a holistic strategy for all stakeholders.
Simpson’s plan offers that vision. It focuses on innovations and solutions for irrigation and agricultural upgrades; funding for administrative options to sustain instream flows; and restoration of instream and upland habitats. Simpson’s approach benefits our operation, my community and salmon.
• Irrigation and ag upgrades: Irrigators will benefit from state-of- the-art irrigation to manage available water content and reduce compaction due to over irrigation just as salmon benefit from more water instream during the hot season. My community will benefit from potential local hydro power from irrigation upgrades just as salmon will benefit from better irrigation management.
• Instream restoration: Graziers will gain production from a higher water table when the creek is reconnected to the floodplain just as salmon juveniles benefit from refuge and habitat on functional floodplains, and my community will benefit from flood control.
• Upland restoration: Ranchers benefit from more grass when uplands have high soil organic matter to absorb the snowmelt into the soil mantle. Our streams gain cold water flow from the slowed release
during the hot season, benefiting salmon. My cattle benefit from woody vegetation providing shade in summer and wind breaks in the winter, just as salmon benefit from shade keeping water cool.
Ranchers have learned a lot about better grazing management over the last 50 years. We can benefit by updating technology — for example, virtual fencing, RAM powered stock water pipelines and state-of-the-
art grazing planning — to minimize overgrazing on critical watershed uplands and riparian areas.
Simpson’s package would deliver significant innovations and support in these categories of shared concern. Cooperation and coordination among farmers, ranchers, fishery, habitat, infrastructure and other
specialists is something we’ve proven we can do, and we can do it well.
Where the needs of fish, transportation, energy and agriculture converge, we prioritize projects. Simpson’s proposal, when it turns into a bill, will deploy funds to support community-led watershed management.
Engage now with Rep. Bentz and encourage him to work with his colleague Rep. Simpson. Call on Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, so our existing collaborations and priorities are teed up in the bill.
A custom-made, Pacific Northwest-led solution for Snake River salmon and steelhead honoring our land managers and heritage of innovative collaboration improving our waterways can be achieved.
Simply by empowering those managing our fishery, road, irrigation, energy, forest and agriculture production.
A plan meeting the challenges of the next generation lies before us. Engage.
Tony Malmberg and his wife, Andrea Malmberg, have been ranching in Northeastern Oregon for 10 years after ranching in Wyoming more than 0 years. You can find out more about him at his website,