What did the lower Snake River look like before lower Snake River dams were built in the 60s and 70s? What was lost under the reservoirs? What could be restored with dam removal?
There is growing interest in these questions since Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson put forth a proposal to remove the lower Snake River dams and provide $33.5 billion in investments to affected stakeholders and communities that would go beyond replacing the benefits of the dams, but improve our transportation and energy systems and revitalize river communities.
Congressman Simpson’s proposal is a response to the alarming decline in Snake River salmon and steelhead populations, and the drastically reduced sportfishing in Idaho that has hurt small businesses and cost local communities millions of dollars in fishing and tourism revenue. The 2021 fish returns are looking no better. A comprehensive solution is desperately needed. We have an opportunity this year, in Congress, to make his visionary proposal a reality.
The Snake River Vision Project, lead by Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and endorsed by many Inland Northwest recreation, fishing, and conservation groups, works to inform answers to the “What If?” questions. For the past decade, SOS has worked with local experts, combed historical archives, and interviewed people who fished, hunted, hiked, farmed, and lived in the lower Snake River corridor before dams. Not only were 144 miles of the river turned into reservoirs, but 14,400 acres of land were buried underwater. Tribal cultural sites, farming communities, prime bird and wildlife habitat, as well as much loved steelhead fishing holes were lost. Many people have fond memories of boating, fishing, and hunting the canyons and breaks along the beautiful river
Over the past several months SOS worked with Defenders of Wildlife to build an interactive map incorporating historic photos, first-person accounts, maps to give people a sense of what was once there, and what could be there again. It provides context and background to jumpstart stakeholder discussions on how best to restore and manage the river corridor for local communities and economies if the dams are removed.