IN THIS ISSUE:1. Harmful anti-salmon, anti-orca bill gets a hearing in Washington D.C.2. Governor Inslee raises the alarm on plight of Southern Resident Orca3. Columbia River Treaty discussion draws a crowd in Seattle4. Update on court-ordered 'spill' starting in 20185. Celebrating a Restored Sandy River – 10 years after dam removal6. SOS website gets a major upgrade7. Media Roundup: Northwest orca, salmon and rivers in the press8. Salmon Mean Business - celebrating NW sustainability leaders: Duke's Chowder House and Eco Depot!
1. Harmful anti-salmon, anti-orca bill gets a hearing in Washington D.C.
A bill seeking to stymie salmon recovery in the Columbia-Snake Rivers received a House Congressional hearing October 12th. Spearheaded by eastern Washington’s Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, H.R. 3144 would put in place the illegal 2014 Salmon Plan ruled invalid by Judge Simon last year, rollback the court-ordered expansion of spill, and derail the ongoing agency efforts to develop new analyses and recovery alternatives—including dam removal—to restore wild salmon in the basin. If that weren’t enough, the bill also prevents federal agencies from even studying dam removal or spilling additional water at the dams, a very necessary and effective measure for giving young salmon an easier ride down the river during the spring migration to the ocean. Read a fact sheet about the bill here.
Salmon advocates were allowed one witness at a table of utility industry executives who refused even to acknowledge that the Columbia and Snake River dams harm wild salmon and steelhead runs. Dam proponents, including utility representatives and Rep. McMorris-Rodgers herself, claimed salmon were doing better today than before the dams. Did they somehow miss the headlines this summer on the dismally low runs and shut down fisheries?
Liz Hamilton, Executive Director for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, did a great job speaking on behalf of fish and fishing people. She set the record straight on the impacts of dams on wild salmon & steelhead and the absolute necessity for spilling additional water over the dams. She spoke forcefully about the real-world effects of the dismally low salmon & steelhead returns this season, about lost income to fishing businesses and curtailed revenues to small towns.
There was no vote on H.R. 3144. So far, Rep. McMorris-Rodgers has not garnered widespread support for bill. SOS is working with its allied organizations to educated elected leaders and the public on why this bill is bad policy. It hurts salmon in the short-term and thwarts ongoing efforts to develop a plan that restores salmon and resolves the crisis.
We need to keep pressure on Members of Congress to actively oppose H.R. 3144 and ensure that it does not find its way through Congress to become law. Read the letter more than 35 conservation and business associations sent to Northwest members of Congress this summer opposing this bill. Send it to your Reps as a reminder. Call them. Take action online below...Thank you.
Here's how you can help:
Recent press coverage:
2. Governor Inslee raises the alarm on plight of Southern Resident Orca
Last month, in his monthly Results Washington meeting, Governor Inslee (WA) spent nearly ten minutes asking questions about the plight of the Southern Resident Orcas, including about whether we are at a critical turning point for this endangered, still-declining population.
(You can view the meeting online here. The Governor begins raising his concerns and asking questions about the Southern Residents starting at the 31-minute mark.)
Governor Inslee’s deep affection for the Southern Residents is well known. Orca advocates were elated to see him start to ask tough, focused questions about their status: Are we at a tipping point for this population? Do we need to sound the alarm? Should Washington State do more now to protect them?
The answer of course is YES. The Northwest’s resident orca population is in deep trouble. Several whales have died or disappeared in just the last year, including young calves, reproducing mothers, and the population’s 100 year-old matriach, Granny. Despite being “protected” under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, the population continues to decline. It is at a 30-year low today, with just 76 individuals remaining.
Research has taught us much in recent years to inform and focus urgently-needed conservation efforts. These orcas rely significantly on chinook salmon for their diet. Satellite-tagging data, direct observation and the analysis of fecal samples make clear that these orca spend significant amounts of time on the Washington State coast and at the mouth of the Columbia River feeding of adult chinook that gather there before heading upriver to spawn in their natal streams.
Hormone analyses from fecal sample demonstrate that all three pods – the J’s, K’s and L’s – suffer from “nutritional stress” at various times of the year. The orca are starving - and this is leading to both early deaths of individual whales and an alarmingly high rate of spontaneous abortions.
These orca rely on salmon from many river systems across the West Coast, but the Columbia-Snake system and its salmon can play a critical role producing the large numbers of chinook that these orca need. This will not be realized, however, without “a major overhaul” of the federal system of dams and reservoirs in the lower Columbia and lower Snake Rivers. In the very near-term, federal dam agencies need to increase spill in the spring and summer to increase the survival of juvenile salmon as they migrate to the Pacific Ocean. Several years from now, with a plan in place, we need to remove the four, costly, out-dated, and deadly dams on the lower Snake River. This project represents our nation’s largest river and salmon restoration opportunity – one that can also save public dollars, create many jobs as it also restores endangered fisheries and delivers an essential food source to hungry killer whales. A win-win-win for salmon, orca and people.
Recent press coverage:
3. Presentation on Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty draws a large Seattle crowd
Over a hundred people gathered in Seattle at the Mountaineers Building in late September for a reception and series of presentations and panel discussion with the audience on the necessity and opportunity of modernizing the U.S. – Canada Columbia River Treaty in order to both right historic wrongs and prepare both nations to work closely together to protect and restore health to the river and its fish and wildlife and human communities in the 21st Century
Speakers included Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, author (of an excellent book "A River Captured – The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic change") and academic, D.R. Michel and John Sirois of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, and the Evangelical Lutheran Reverend John Rosenberg – a religious leader, teacher, writer and salmon/river advocate.
Eileen started off the first of three presentations with a focus on many of the often unrecognized impacts of the Treaty on communities in the upper watershed of British Columbia – flooded towns, lost farms, dislocation. D.R. and John spoke of the devastating loss of salmon as a result of the large dams built in the upper basin of Washington State – such as Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee – and about the Tribes' persistent efforts and progress toward reintroducing salmon into historic habitats from which they have been excluded from due to last century’s spasm of dam construction. Finally, Rev. Rosenberg focused in on the importance of healthy rivers and wild salmon and the responsibility of non-tribal people in the Northwest to ensure our government honors its obligations to our Tribal neighbors based on other Treaties, made with Tribes in the 19th Century. And to our sacred responsibilities and relationship with the lands and waters and fish and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Modernization of the Columbia River Treaty is an opportunity to right historic wrongs and make good on our nation’s commitments to salmon and fishing and other essential values for so many of the Northwest's Tribes.
Speakers spent 30 minutes or more answering audience questions before we adjorned. Unfortunately, we were unable to record the event, but will work on doing so in the future. (any local volunteer/highly affordable A/V specialists - reach out for future projects!)
This event was sponsored by Save Our wild Salmon, American Rivers, Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Earth Ministry, League of Women Voters Washington, Sierra Club, Upper Columbia United Tribes and the Columbia Institute for Water Policy.
4. Update: court-ordered spring 'spill' starting in 2018?
In case you are wondering, here’s an update on the process ordered by the U.S. District Court in Portland last April to increase spring "spill” on the lower Snake and lower Columbia rivers. Salmon and fishing advocates/plaintiffs - joined by the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe - asked the Court to order the dam agencies to increase spill starting in Spring 2017 to help more endangered fish survive the lethal hydro-system. As you may recall, spill releases water over the tops of the dams rather than sending it through spinning turbines or Rube Goldberg bypass systems. “Spilled” fish move through the reservoirs and past the dams more quickly and safely on their way to the ocean and – most importantly – they come back in the greatest numbers as adults several years later. Juvenile fish that are artificially transported in barges (yes, they are still doing this. Sigh.) or that use the dam “bypass” systems or end up going through turbines don’t survive the dams as well and don’t return from the ocean as adults as successfully as those fish that migrate in the river and ‘spill’ over the dams. The more natural the river, the less human intervention, the better. Not too surprising really.
In opposing the request for more spill in early ‘17, the dam agencies / defendants cried foul and claimed increasing spill could not happen safely without an extensive time-consuming plan (read: more delay). The agencies also erroneously claimed that more spill will hurt salmon and we really shouldn’t do it.
The Court, feeling the need to be cautious and recognize the agency views, split the baby and ordered increased spill levels starting in 2018 and asked the federal, state and tribal fish experts to work together in 2017 to develop a plan for increased spring spill that maximizes the biological benefit for fish without exceeding any water quality standards or posing significant risks to navigation and human safety. Over the past eight months, state, federal and tribal agencies have been working collaboratively on this court-ordered spill plan for 2018 and beyond. A crew even travelled to Mississippi several times where an Army Corps of Engineers facility has actual models of each of these eight dams. Crazy, right? They run water through these models and look for problems that might harm the fish.
Well, long story short, these experts have been working together on this spill gameplan – per the Court’s order. So far, so good. No one has found any biological constraint for NOT spilling water over the dams in the spring at the levels currently allowed by the law (changing water quality regulations to allow for even higher levels of fish-aiding spill is another topic. More on that later.). Nor has anyone found any public safety or navigational reasons to limit or reduce spill. Another fear that defendants had raised.
That said, we still don’t yet have a final plan, either agreed to by the agencies or signed off by the court that will definitively implement maximum spill allowed by the law starting in spring 2018. As a result, there is still time for mischief by the dam agencies who have a long history of mischief when it comes to providing spill to help endangered wild salmon and steelhead. And there is still a chance the Court will have to address some aspects of these issues again this winter before a final plan is in place.
Stay tuned. We will keep you posted on any new developments and reach out to ask for your help if the dam agencies try to take this spill collaboration off the rails.
5. Celebrating a Restored Sandy River (OR) – 10 years after dam removal
Here’s some excerpts from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife press release marking the 10 year anniversary of freeing the Sandy River in northwest Oregon. The bottom line – yet another still evolving but already highly successful story of removing dams, restoring rivers, and recovering salmon and steelhead.
Ten years ago a new era of salmon and steelhead recovery quite literally started out with a bang when Marmot Dam was removed from the Sandy River. More than a ton of high-grade explosives were detonated, taking off the face of the 47-foot high concrete dam.
At the time, it was the largest dam breach ever attempted. Portland General Electric, owner of the dam, figured it would be more cost-effective to remove the structure than upgrade it to meet new federal relicensing standards.
Biologists, conservationists, anglers, and others hailed the removal of Marmot Dam as a victory for imperiled native runs of Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead. The hope was that fish would benefit from better flows, better water quality and unrestricted access to prime spawning grounds in the uppermost reaches of the river.
So has 10 years of a free-flowing Sandy River been good for fish?
The answer is an unqualified ‘yes’, according to Todd Alsbury, ODFW district fish biologist for the Sandy, and one of the partners in the removal of Marmot Dam.
Now, for the past three years, when other runs of salmon and steelhead around the region have been down, the Sandy has been seeing increasingly strong returns; in some cases, double what they were a decade ago before Marmot Dam was removed...Alsbury noted that in the 10 years since Marmot Dam was removed ODFW has observed the largest returns for all three species in 40 years.
The number of wild spring chinook increased from an average of 809 before dam removal to 2,086 afterwards. Similarly, coho increased from 784 returning fish before dam removal to 1,959 afterward, and wild winter steelhead increased from 898 to 2,757.
Read the full press release here.
And watch a 60-second time lapse of the removal of the Marmot Dam from the Sandy River here.
6. SOS website gets a major upgrade!
We are happy to invite you to visit our new and improved website. It has been a long time in the works. It is finally done and up and running. We think that it is more attractive, easier to navigate, with updated links to photo galleries, a video collection and detailed policy resources and links to further information on a range of topics: science, salmon and orca, clean energy and climate and more.
Please take a look and send us your feedback – especially if you see broken links, content needs, or have confusion about our programs, etc.
And don’t forget to confirm that our DONATE page is fully functional as well… ; )
7. Media Roundup: selected stories on orca, salmon, rivers
Lewiston Morning Tribune: Time to Breach? By Eric Barker, October 22, 2017
Street Roots News: Nez Perce activists fight to save the Snake River Tribe. By Stephen Quirke, 15 Sep 2017
Idaho Statesman Guest Opinion: Don’t blame ‘the blob.’ Even with good ocean conditions, salmon face hostile rivers. By Tom Stuart, September 23, 2017
Idaho Statesman: Remove 4 dams, leave these fish alone, and they may be able to replenish themselves. By Rocky Barker, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017
Save Our wild Salmon salutes these two excellent Northwest-based businesses for their vision and leadership to promote the highest standards of sustainability and responsible businesses practices - including healthy wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia-Snake River Basin and across the Pacific Northwest.
Duke Moscrip, with his son and partner John, own a chain of seven Sustainable Seafood restaurants in greater Puget Sound. They serve delicious, sustainably-sourced meals and are passionate about protecting, preserving and restoring wild salmon and steelhead to the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Duke recognizes the value of healthy habitats and free-flowing rivers necessary to sustain fisheries that support thousands of jobs in the fishing economy, provide the perfect food, and protect the region's unique ecology and way of life. Visit Duke's website here. Read the letter Duke recently sent to President Trump re: Columbia-Snake River Basin salmon here.
It’s also time to give a well-deserved shout out to Spokane-based Eco Depot, a family-owned business specializing in solarizing businesses, farms and homes in the Inland Northwest and beyond. Specializing in WA-made solar panels, few outfits provide the friendly and steady customer service of Eco Depot.
Eco Depot regularly sponsors SOS events. Co-owner Bruce Gage provides the fresh-squeezed orange juice for the masses at the annual "Free the Snake Flotilla". Eco Depot’s panels power the Spokane SOS office! Most important, he works hard to educate his customers and colleagues in the solar industry about the declining value of the lower Snake dams, why they need to be removed and why wild salmon are so important to the Northwest. Eco Depot has brought scores of new supporters to the cause. As Bruce likes to say: Solar Saves Salmon!
Check out Eco Depot here.