Wild Salmon & Steelhead News is published by the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition. Read on to learn about the Columbia-Snake River Basin’s endangered wild salmon and steelhead, the many benefits they deliver to people and ecosystems, and the extinction crisis they face today. Find out how SOS is helping lead efforts to restore health, connectivity, and resilience to the rivers and streams salmon depend upon in the Columbia-Snake Basin and how you can get involved to help restore healthy, abundant, and fishable populations and sustain more just and prosperous communities. To learn more and/or get involved, contact Carrie Herrman.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
1. Northwest Tribes pass resolution calling for dam removal and other urgent actions to protect and restore salmon abundance
2. A Fork in the Road: Plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief to help endangered Snake/Columbia river fish
3. Red Road to D.C. 2021 - Support the Nez Perce Tribe on the lower Snake River - July 15th
4. Dam Removal Success Stories 2021: Final in our five-part series – Restoring the Sandy River
5. Lynda Mapes’ new book - ORCA: Shared Waters, Shared Home
6. Coming soon: SOS weekly 'Hot Water Report' for the Snake and Columbia Rivers
7. 81 chefs call for urgent political leadership on salmon recovery and community solutions
1. Northwest Tribes pass a resolution calling for dam removal and other urgent actions to protect and restore salmon abundance
The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) unanimously approved a resolution in late May calling to bypass the lower Snake River dams to rebuild salmon runs, save endangered orcas, and secure Congressional funding to replace the dams’ services.
ATNI represents 57 tribal governments from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, northern California, southeast Alaska, and western Montana.
The Northwest tribes gathered for a convention at which they expressed their support for the plan introduced in February by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson. Their resolution also reflected their intention to convene an orca and salmon summit this summer to focus urgent attention on the crisis facing both species.
“The Columbia River Tribes are unified and clear — we need to breach the four lower Snake River dams now if we are to save endangered salmon runs from extinction. At today’s gathering of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representatives of tribes throughout the Northwest region agreed: we need to take urgent action,” Leonard Forsman, president of the ATNI and Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe said in a statement.
“We call on the Northwest congressional delegation and Gov. Inslee to join Idaho Rep. Simpson, Oregon Gov. Brown, and Oregon Rep. Blumenauer in taking urgent, nonpartisan action to save the Snake River salmon and the regional ecosystems that depend on them,” the statement said.
The tribes’ resolution also called on President Biden and Congress to “seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in salmon and river restoration in the Pacific Northwest, charting a stronger, better future for the Northwest, and bringing long-ignored tribal justice to our people and homelands.”
Further, they called for convening a Northwest Tribal Salmon and Orca Summit this summer, with invitations to be extended to Biden Administration officials and Northwest Congressional members. The White House and Congress, of course, represent the federal government - which is charged with honoring the treaties under which the tribes ceded millions of acres — in return for continuing their way of life in perpetuity.
Upholding these treaty responsibilities requires healthy, fishable salmon stocks and Southern Resident orcas. Many populations of salmon - including all those remaining in the Snake River Basin - are at risk of extinction today. Orcas were listed as endangered by the federal government in 2006. After continued population declines, in 2015 NOAA identified the Southern Residents as one of eight “species in the spotlight” - a set of marine mammals nationally at high risk of extinction in the near-term unless urgent conservation action is taken. By any measure, that has not yet occurred.
The tribes also called on President Biden to prioritize working on salmon and river restoration as identified in the Simpson proposal. And they called on the administration not to defend in court the Biological Opinion (federal salmon plan) that was approved in 2020 by the Trump Administration. This so-called “new” plan would continue status quo operations of Snake and Columbia river dams. It has been challenged in court as inadequate and illegal by conservation and fishing plaintiffs, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe. To learn more about that, see the next story...
2. A Fork in the Road: Plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief to help endangered Snake and Columbia river fish
As part of the long-running legal battle to protect and restore endangered wild salmon and steelhead populations imperiled by the federal system of dams and reservoirs in the Snake and Columbia rivers, conservation and fishing advocates, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe are expected in July to request further injunctive relief from the U.S. District Court in Portland. In order to help imperiled fish populations, the court is likely to be asked to impose a set of measures affecting the operations of the federal dams and reservoirs that, if granted, could take effect in early April, in time for the 2022 spring salmon migration season.
The 2021 migration season is already well underway. Dam and reservoir operations designed to help at-risk stocks are guided this year by the 'Flexible Spill Agreement' that was established in 2019. This three-year agreement was signed by Bonneville Power Administration, Nez Perce Tribe, and the States of Oregon and Washington. Notably, these parties specifically state in the agreement that none of them believe that ‘Flexible Spill’ will be adequate to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead as the law requires. The main feature of the agreement has been to allow elevated levels of “spill" - for 16 hours each day during the spring migration - to help young fish migrate more quickly and safely through the eight federal dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers.
Spill sends water (and fish with it) over the tops of dams - rather than through power turbines or dam bypass systems. Years of scientific study demonstrates that spill helps increase the survival of out-migrating juvenile fish and leads to increased adult returns in the years that follow. For Snake River fish that must pass through eight dams and reservoirs to get to and from the ocean, spill is helpful but insufficient to protect them from extinction. Each year, approximately 50-70 percent of young Snake River fish are killed in the dams and reservoirs en route to the Pacific Ocean. The best available science strongly supports lower Snake River dam removal as necessary to protect these populations from extinction and to restore them to abundance.
Looking to 2022 and beyond, there are a number of likely options for this summer’s request for injunctive relief from the plaintiffs.
Under the current litigation schedule and assuming that this request is made in July, the court would be expected to make a decision early next year - in time to implement additional measures to aid fish survival in time for the Spring and Summer 2022 migration. Most experts see three types of actions to modify the operation of the federal dams and reservoirs as likely to be included in this upcoming request:
(1) Increased spill at the four lower Snake River and four lower Columbia River dams/reservoirs to the maximum levels allowed by law. The flexible spill agreement now in place through this year, allows spill at levels up to 125 percent Total Dissolved Gas (TDG) for up to 16 hours per day at some dams. These operations could be increased to 24 hours per day at all eight dams except where there are physical constraints. This action would (1) help endangered fish and (2) reduce power produced by federal dams at the same time.
(2) Longer periods of elevated (125 percent TDG) spill - ‘Flexible Spill’ is currently limited to the spring migration (early April to late June). This timeframe could be expanded to include summer months. Like #1 above, this would also (1) benefit imperiled fish while (2) reducing power produced by the federal dams.
(3) Reservoir drawdown in spring and/or summer months in one or more reservoirs in the lower Snake and Columbia rivers. "Drawdown" substantially reduces the volume of water held behind a dam and has the effect of increasing the speed of the water current and accelerating out-migrating smolts’ journey to the Pacific Ocean. Like spill, reservoir drawdown will deliver out-migrating smolts to the estuary more safely, in better condition and with higher energy reserves. Speeding these fish through the reservoirs also reduces predation by other fish like bass and pikeminnow whose populations have increased significantly due to the warm, stagnant waters created by the dams. Drawdown has less effect on power production compared to spill but can affect other reservoir-based activities including barge transportation and irrigation withdrawals.
To the extent that these types of measures are ordered by the court, impacted sectors - power production, irrigation and transportation - should not expect resources or assistance to help mitigate disruption. Further and related, the courts have previously ruled that for injunctive relief authorized by federal courts under the Endangered Species Act, potential costs and/or financial impacts are not relevant to whether an injunction should be issued.
So - the Northwest will soon face a consequential ‘fork in the road’. We can continue on the path we’ve followed for more than three decades - defined by litigation, court orders, escalating costs - and conflict, pain and loss. Or, we can instead come together - quickly - as a region to secure the resources we need for a durable, lawful, science-based plan that meets our various and important needs and interests - for salmon and orcas, Tribal cultures and treaty rights, non-tribal fishing communities as well as farming, shipping and energy sectors. We have a choice to make - we could decide to work together to avoid harsh, sudden outcomes with little-to-no resources to address them and, instead, collaborate - policymakers, sovereigns and stakeholders - on an inclusive regional solution that invests in salmon recovery and communities - and better positions the Northwest region for the challenges and opportunities we face in the 21st Century. We can work together to control our destiny and build a better future - or people can continue to roll the dice, cross their fingers, and watch as the court proceedings unfold.
Right now, in 2021, we have a rare window of opportunity to forge a new and better and more certain way forward together. Snake River salmon need it. The energy sector and communities need it. A growing number of politicians - Congress members and governors - are leaning in. We ALL need to lean in now to seize this opportunity.
3. Red Road to D.C. - Support the Nez Perce Tribe and Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment on the banks of the lower Snake River on July 15th
Join SOS in supporting the House of Tears Carvers, Nez Perce Tribe, and Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment on July 15th on the banks of the lower Snake River as part of this summer’s first stop on the Red Road to D.C. journey - and stand in solidarity with the Nez Perce and other Northwest tribes as they call for the urgent removal of the four lower Snake River dams in order to heal this river and restore its endangered salmon and steelhead and other fish populations.
About the Red Road to D.C.: This summer, the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation are transporting the 24-foot totem pole they carved from Washington State to Washington D.C.. As this pole travels across North America, it draws lines of connection - honoring and uniting and empowering communities working to protect sacred places. It carries the spirit of the lands it visits and the power and prayers of communities along the way. In this moment of self-reflection across the United States and the acknowledgment of past and present injustices inflicted on Native Peoples and lands without consent, the Red Road to D.C. invites all peoples to stand united and in solidarity to protect sacred places, and fulfill ancestral and historic obligations to the First Peoples of these lands and waters across North America.
Here are the event details for the Red Road to D.C.’s visit to the lower Snake River:
- Who: A public blessing ceremony hosted by the Nez Perce Tribe, Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment and Lummi Nation's House of Tears Carvers
- Where: Chief Timothy State Park on the banks of the lower Snake River (near Clarkston, WA)
- When: Thursday, July 15, 2021: Blessing ceremony 9 am - 11:30 am, followed by lunch
4. Dam Removal Success Stories 2021: Final in our five-part Series – Restoring the Sandy River
This year, Save Our Wild Salmon and American Rivers teamed up for a 5-part series spotlighting dam removal success stories from across the Northwest and the nation. These short, informal ‘case studies’ take a close look at recent dam removal projects and explore some of their economic, community, ecological, and social justice outcomes.
All of the stories share themes of renewal, opportunity, and benefit. Dam removal projects frequently start with a struggle over values and visions. In successful cases, this is followed by conflict resolution and collaboration. It is also helpful to remember that persistence is required in nearly all cases - and the payoff is high. River restoration projects - 69 dams were removed across the United States just in 2020! - deliver big benefits to communities, economies, and ecosystems - and have transformed many a skeptic to supporter.
Restoring the Sandy River: The final story in our series focuses on the Sandy River which is 56 miles long and flows from its headwaters high on the slopes of Mt. Hood into the Columbia River near Troutdale, Oregon. In 1999, Portland General Electric (PGE) decided to remove the two dams on the Sandy River, the Marmot (removed in 2007) and Little Sandy Dams (removed in 2008), transfer water rights to the state, donate approximately 1,500 acres of land to public ownership, and invest in watershed restoration. Today, the Sandy River is showing clear signs of an ecological recovery-in-progress and according to a recent Sandy River Basin Watershed Council report, spring chinook, winter steelhead, and coho all show increases in 10-year average populations, particularly in the second generation of adult fish returns, after dam removal.
The Sandy River restoration brought non-profit organizations, governments, tribes, educational institutions, and private funders together to work towards the common goal of a healthy watershed and healthy and abundant native fish populations. “We celebrate the future of a watershed that will provide unimpeded salmon and steelhead passage from the slopes of Mt. Hood to the Pacific Ocean,” stated Peggy Fowler, the CEO and President of PGE
Read our full story about the Sandy River here.
5. Lynda Mapes’ new book - ORCA: Shared Waters, Shared Home
Lynda Mapes of the Seattle Times is one of the Northwest’s leading journalists, with a strong focus on environmental issues and Tribal communities. She is also the author of several books, but her latest, ORCA: Shared Waters, Shared Home, may be her most powerful and timely work yet. She explores the natural history of these highly intelligent and social creatures and the daunting challenges that face the salmon-dependent Southern Resident orcas familiar to human residents around the Salish Sea. The book is based on several years of newspaper reporting, but goes into a depth not feasible in daily journalism.
Mapes kicked off a virtual book tour with a June 1 launch event, but there’s still time to catch other virtual events.
Her work provides powerful evidence of the cost of our failure to recover the endangered salmon and steelhead of the Columbia and Snake rivers - and across the Pacific Northwest.
6. Coming soon - SOS 2021 'Hot Water Report' for the Snake and Columbia Rivers
SOS will soon kick off our 6th Annual weekly series of the Hot Water Report. Starting later this month, the Hot Water Report will track water temperatures in the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers - and how increasingly hot water in the summer months impact these cold-water species of salmon and steelhead. We'll include content on the status of salmon and steelhead returns and related reports, recent developments, and actions that state and federal agencies and our communities must take to ensure safer, healthier rivers and streams that protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin requires.
The Pacific Northwest's once-abundant anadromous native fish are struggling to survive today primarily due to the harmful impacts of the federal dams and reservoirs. Our changing climate is worsening these conditions and making the need for corrective action ever more urgent. Regional scientists are predicting that 2021 will be a hot, dry summer that could be a lot like 2015 - when more than 250,000 adult sockeye salmon were killed in June and July as they returned from the Pacific Ocean en route to their natal rivers and streams in the Columbia-Snake Basin.
This year’s Hot Water Report will address related regional issues and explore urgently needed solutions and the opportunities they present to improve the Northwest's culture, economy, and environment. The 2021 Hot Water Report is a joint project of the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition, Sierra Club, Orca Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, National Wildlife Federation, and Snake River Waterkeeper.
7. 81 chefs call for urgent political leadership on salmon recovery and community solutions
On June 10, 81 chefs, restaurant owners, and food professionals across Washington state delivered a letter to Governor Inslee and Senator Patty Murray following up on the policymakers’ joint statement in May. The letter supports the commitments made by Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee to restore salmon runs and invest in communities and a clean and affordable energy future - and urged them to move ahead quickly.
We want to give a special shout-out to Chef Kristi Brown, chef and owner of Communion, Chef John Sundstrom, owner of Lark, and Chef Taichi Kitamura, owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura - for their leadership on this project. Their quotes and comments are listed below.
“As business owners, we have had the fight of our lives to keep the doors open and provide jobs for as many of our employees as possible. There is no doubt that the challenges we have faced have been felt in the supply chain right down to the people that grow and harvest the food we cook,” said Kristi Brown, chef and owner of Communion in the Capitol Hill District of Seattle.
“Farmers and fishermen need us as much as we need them,” Brown added. “That’s why we signed the letter thanking Governor Inslee and Senator Murray for their recent statement that recognizes the need for urgent action on salmon and the future of the Columbia River Basin. We urge them to take a comprehensive approach that addresses our region’s issues as a whole.”
“Conflict between salmon recovery and the energy and agricultural sectors has been an unintended consequence of dam construction in the Columbia Basin. We urgently need leadership from our elected officials to set things straight, meet community needs and revitalize the economy,” said Chef John Sundstrom of Lark in Seattle.
“Given the importance of getting people back to work, it's imperative that we advance the process of restoring salmon and create more jobs in our region,” said Chef Taichi Kitamura, owner of Sushi Kappo Tamura and avid fly fisherman.
“I want to continue fishing with my family, but I certainly don’t want to catch the last fish. We encourage Governor Inslee and Senator Murray to urgently advance a big regional package to recover salmon and invest in our communities. But we need action in months, not years — while salmon still have a chance at recovery.”