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Save Our Wild Salmon

PHOTO Conservation Photographer Neil Ever Osborne International League of Conservation Photographers ILCPjpgSat., April 8, 2023
By Miles Johnson

President Biden recently committed to restoring abundant salmon in the Columbia River basin. In response, Reps. Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers proposed legislation to maintain the failing status quo with respect to Lower Snake River dams.

Their legislation is going nowhere, given the president’s commitment. But it’s still disappointing that Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers would rather try to score political points than help a growing and bipartisan group of leaders from Oregon, Washington and Idaho build a future that works for everyone. It’s even more disappointing to watch Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers resort to lies and fear mongering.

Rep. Newhouse should stop using scare tactics. In his press release announcing the proposed bill, Newhouse’s very first argument was that “Lower Snake River Dams are integral to flood control.” Seriously? The Lower Snake River dams do not provide meaningful flood control, so removing them would not put anyone in danger from flooding. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Lower Snake dams create run-of-the-river reservoirs that discharge roughly the same volume of water as they receive from upstream at any given time; they cannot store meaningful amounts of flood runoff.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers should stop misrepresenting the science. The top government and independent fisheries agencies in America – the National Marine Fisheries Service and the American Fisheries Society – agree that dam removal is necessary to rebuild abundant, fishable runs of Snake River salmon. Just like she stopped publicly denying climate change a few years ago, CMR should stop denying the scientific consensus that Lower Snake River dams must be removed to recover abundant salmon.

Both of them should quit pretending that relatively tiny year-to-year changes in salmon returns amount to any kind of positive trend. None of the salmon or steelhead species in the Snake River are remotely close to the population goals set through regional consensus by the Columbia Basin Partnership. Reps. Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers’ disingenuous cherry-picking of a few data points is blatantly transparent to anyone with a basic understanding of Snake River salmon and steelhead biology.

It’s not too late for Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers to do the right thing, starting by telling the truth about the Lower Snake River dams and the challenges we face as a region.

Another Republican congressman from the Northwest once held similar reservations about un-damming the Lower Snake River. Then-Rep. Simpson took a long, clear-eyed look at the facts and overcame his doubts. Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers should join him, and the rest of the Northwest, in creating real solutions that bring our region forward together.

Miles Johnson is legal director for Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization with 16,000 members and supporters across the Columbia River basin working to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia and all life connected to it, from the headwaters to the Pacific. Johnson lives in Hood River, Oregon.

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