Editorial: Act now to save salmon, whatever the fate of the dams
By the Herald Editorial Board
When an idea is criticized from all sides, it can mean that it was a bad plan initially or a brilliant vision that made too many people uncomfortable with the necessary compromises.
Take your pick for which applies, but the latter appears to be experiencing a proposal from a Republican congressman from Idaho to save salmon and rainbow trout on the Snake River from 1078 miles – the largest tributary of the Columbia River that flows through southeast Washington. and crosses Idaho in Montana – smashing the four lower hydroelectric dams on the Snake River in Washington state.
By removing the dams, fish spawning and rearing habitat would be restored with greatly improved hopes that endangered salmon and rainbow trout tracks would be saved and revitalized, boosting sport fishing and commercial, feeding hungry – and also endangered – orcas and other wildlife and protecting the heritage, fishing rights and economies of the Northwest Indian tribes and the culture of the Northwest itself.
The removal of the dam, although on a smaller scale, already looks promising on the Elwha River of the Olympic Peninsula, which has seen removal of two dams blocking salmon from 2014. Salmon and other fish responded with the largest returns of adult chinook salmon since the late 1980s and the return of summer rainbow trout and trout flat in the upper reaches of the river, The Seattle Times reported in October.
Long argued, the removal of the four lower Snake dams had faced opposition even before last year’s proposal by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, condemned because removing the dams could mean loss of production. hydroelectric power and potential losses of irrigation and barge supply to the agricultural economy of the region.
Simpson’s plan sought to address these and other concerns by describing $ 33.5 billion in federal spending that allegedly diverted the snake around dams – essentially muting hydroelectric plants – but also funding infrastructure and other projects to ensure continued access to irrigation and transport, while funding replacement projects. and increase the supply of clean and sustainable electricity in the region.
Recently, Simpson saw an opportunity to fund what he dubbed the Columbia Basin Initiative, as part of President Biden’s infrastructure and employment plan, currently being prepared for consideration by Congress.
Simpson’s imitation has found support from some environmental groups, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and a Portland-area Democrat member of Congress, and many Native American tribes in the area, but was largely stripped by communities in eastern Washington, Simpson’s Northwestern Republican compatriot members of Congress and even some environmental groups, who opposed compromise measures that would have renewed licenses for all dams in the greater Columbia Basin for 35 to 50 years and imposed a 25-year moratorium on prosecutions against dams related to salmon and rainbow trout under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and other regulatory acts.
But the plan’s inclusion in Biden’s infrastructure package is now unlikely after a joint declaration earlier this month, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Governor Jay Inslee, who each believed Simpson’s proposal could not be included in the infrastructure package, public radio Northwest News Network and other reported. US Sen. Maria Cantwell did later a similar statement.
Instead, Murray and Inslee recommended continuing regional work and collaboration to protect and restore salmon populations throughout the Columbia Basin, while ensuring that tribal treaty rights are upheld, a transport reliable riverine assured, access to commercial and sport fishing continues, the competitiveness of farmers is protected. and affordable clean energy remained widely available.
In the statement, Murray and Inslee said the removal of Snake’s lower dams should remain under review, but called for a speed-up of a separate program, the Columbia Basin Collaborative, involving an agreement signed by Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana last October to seek solutions based on science, community participation and consensus.
The question now, in the minds of some who supported Simpson’s plan, can such initiatives produce results in time to save the salmon?
“We have no time to waste,” said Jacqueline Koch, regional communications director for the National Wildlife Federation, who, along with other environmental groups, has been pushing for review of Simpson’s plan. “If (Murray and Inslee) want to save the salmon and the killer whale, it has to happen now; the action cannot be further delayed. ”
“The salmon tracks are about to disappear,” she said in an interview.
And now could mean years that you can count on one hand.
A recent analysis of Idaho’s Nez Perce tribal fisheries found that the wild spring chinook in the Snake River basin had crossed a threshold that signaled they are endangered, and without intervention will not survive, the Lewiston Tribune reported last month. If the trend continues, according to the Tribal Fisheries report, 77 percent of the snake’s spring chinook populations and 44 percent of its rainbow trout would be threatened with extinction within four years.
“It’s a comeback, a series of returns, that shows that you had better do something or you’ll lose your ability to do a lot of anything,” David Johnson, director of the Fisheries department of the Nez Percé tribe Resource management told the Tribune.
It is true that the Snake Dams debate has focused much attention on a single river system – albeit still a major one – when solutions are needed in all watersheds of the Northwest, the coasts of the Western States and the Great Salish Sea.
And solutions to protect fish habitat in the Columbia Basin and throughout the Northwest are advancing:
The increase in spills from Columbia River dams looks promising in allowing more young salmon to bypass the dam turbines and survive their journey to the ocean for their eventual return.
The Washington state legislature has funded work – and more to come if a major transportation program is funded – to replace culverts under roads and highways that block fish passage.
Work is also progressing to improve and rehabilitate estuary fish and wildlife habitat.
But accelerating all this work and more is imperative, and the responsibility lies with the leaders of the Northwest of all states, on both sides. With or without Simpson’s plan for the removal of the Snake Dams, there are key projects that must be included in the federal infrastructure package; efforts should also be made to increase the attention and sustainability of the Columbia Basin Collaborative.
“We need Inslee, Murray and Cantwell to continue to engage and continue to advance their concerns and actions,” Koch said. “They have to keep the promises they made.”