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SOS Blog

Save Our Wild Salmon

From the desk of Joseph Bogaard

This past week was a big one for wild salmon and steelhead and the lower Snake River.

2021.Lower Snake Dams ST.MapFirst, several hundred people attended a virtual 4-hour conference hosted by the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University – Salmon, Energy, Agriculture and Communities – Revisited. Featured speakers included Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Shannon Wheeler, Rep. Mike Simpson (ID), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA).

While Mr. Newhouse found many "creative" ways to embrace a failed status quo, ignore the extinction crisis unfolding before our eyes in Snake River Basin and generally pretend all is well, other speakers highlighted the urgent need for a new approach built upon collaboration, big investments and restoring the lower Snake River through dam removal.

You can read more about the conference here in the Lewiston Morning Tribune:
Simpson calls on his challengers to provide ‘alternatives’

The conference was then followed by big news Friday on the front page of the Seattle Times:

As the headline reflects, Washington State’s Governor and its two U.S. Senators finally made public comment on Congressman Simpson’s transformative proposal – more than three months after he introduced it and invited feedback.

The bad news is they oppose his proposal. They “do not believe the Simpson proposal can be included in the proposed federal infrastructure package.” And Washington State’s two powerful U.S. senators will have a lot of influence on the multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill that is now taking shape in Washington D.C. (More on that later...)

As you’ll recall, in February Rep. Simpson unveiled a visionary concept to protect and restore critically endangered salmon and steelhead populations by removing four deadly dams on the lower Snake River and making major investments in Northwest communities and energy/transportation infrastructure. His stated goals: to solve problems, meet needs, provide certainty, and encourage a lot less conflict and a lot more collaboration.

Salmon, orca and fishing advocates across the Northwest and beyond are extremely grateful for Rep. Simpson’s courageous and visionary leadership to disrupt a costly and painful status quo that has been harming salmon and communities for a very long time. After three decades, five illegal federal plans, $18B in spending, wild salmon and steelhead are still heading toward extinction. Committed, active political leadership is urgently needed - and there's no time to waste!

With his proposal – and to his great credit - Mr. Simpson has spurred a desperately needed conversation about the future of the Pacific Northwest: our identity, values, culture, economy and environment. More pointedly – about whether we will stubbornly resist making a set of adjustments in how we live and do business in order to prevent wild salmon and steelhead – and the irreplaceable benefits they bring - from disappearing forever. This is an especially poignant and existential question for Native American Tribes – the Salmon People of the Northwest – and for the Southern Resident orcas that rely mainly on chinook salmon for their food and survival.

Despite Friday’s disappointing headline, this conversation - recently invigorated by Rep. Simpson - is far from over.

There is also potentially good news in last week's announcement. Senator Patty Murray and Governor Jay Inslee issued a joint statement in which they acknowledge that “[r]egional collaboration on a comprehensive, long-term solution to protect and bring back salmon populations in the Columbia River Basin and throughout the Pacific Northwest is needed now more than ever.”

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They declare that “[a]ny solution must honor Tribal Treaty Rights; ensure reliable transportation and use of the river; ensure ongoing access for our region’s fishermen and sportsmen, guarantee Washington farmers remain competitive and are able to get Washington state farm products to market; and deliver reliable, affordable, and clean energy for families and businesses across the region.”

And they conclude with “[w]e are ready to work with our Northwest Tribes, states, and all the communities that rely on the river system to achieve a solution promptly. We, too, want action and a resolution that restores salmon runs and works for all the stakeholders and communities in the Columbia River Basin.”

Setting aside the fact that their statement sure sounds a lot like what Rep. Simpson has been saying for months, Governor Inslee and Senator Murray have now planted their stake in the ground. They’ve made a commitment to bring people together, honor Tribal Treaty Rights, meet community needs, to restore salmon – all on an urgent timeline.

Sadly, Washington Senator Cantwell has made clear that protecting Snake River salmon from extinction is not among her priorities. Last month, she opposed Simpson’s effort and last week she declined to support the initiative put forth by Murray and Inslee. Instead, she announced her focus on Puget Sound salmon recovery. While restoring salmon in the Puget Sound Basin is also very important, her dismissal of critically endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia-Snake Basin is deeply disappointing. Restoring these populations is critical to Tribes, river communities, recreation and a way of life east of the Cascade Mountains. She needs to hear from her constituents that protecting and restoring salmon must be an urgent state- and region-wide priority – in the Puget Sound and the Columbia-Snake.

Senator Murray and Governor Inslee, however, have made a commitment – and it is up to us to hold them accountable – and to support their leadership. This our work now and we start it today.

The campaign to restore the lower Snake River and its salmon, of course, is bigger than two politicians or a single state. This has always been a regional endeavor - and one with great national significance. Our success depends not only on leadership in the Northwest, but also Washington D.C. – from the full Congress and the Biden Administration.

Finally, we would be remiss at this moment not to communicate our deep appreciation for the leadership of public officials like Congressmen Simpson and Blumenauer and Oregon's Governor Kate Brown. Their support for salmon recovery, willingness to disrupt a status quo that no longer works or makes sense, and advocacy for comprehensive long-term solutions for salmon and orcas and communities – has been critical to bring us to where we are today. We look forward to continuing to work with them in the weeks and months ahead.

If you are interested in more information about these recent developments, take a look at Friday’s excellent press statement from the Nez Perce Tribe, and one from SOS as well.

Thank you, as ever, for your advocacy and support. Just like the public officials we applaud above, we would not be where we are today – with two members of Washington State’s senior leadership stepping up - without your active participation and committed partnership – to educate, to mobilize – to deliver endless pressure, endlessly applied.

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Joseph Bogaard, executive director
Save Our wild Salmon Coalition

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