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Sockeye Salmon. Photo Credit: Jonny Armstrong.

Northwest Governors Announce Intent to Collaborate on Salmon Recovery

Will Another Process Prosper or Peril?

By Betsy Emery, Advocacy and Campaign Manager
October 9, 2020

T oday, the four northwest governors announced their intent to establish a regional collaborative group of stakeholders and tribal sovereigns to investigate opportunities for comprehensive salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin. This comes one day after the Bonneville Power Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Reclamation finalizing their multi-year process of developing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Columbia River System Operations.

While the federal planning process for the recently finalized Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was underway, Washington and Idaho governor's both sponsored regional processes to better understand opportunities for salmon recovery. Oregon governor Kate Brown suggested a regional collaborative process to investigate comprehensive salmon recovery in her response to the draft EIS back in February 2020. Now, they have come together to express support for a larger, collaborative process aimed at solutions.

Northwest Steelheaders hopes that a coordinated collaborative effort among stakeholders and sovereigns throughout the region offers an opportunity to build on the data that the EIS put forward, including the confirmation that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the best option for recovering endangered salmon and steelhead from imminent risk of extinction.

A regional process could also address the substantial legal limitations that constrain the federal agencies in taking bold actions regarding how the hydrosystem is managed. In the EIS, the federal agencies included a number of statements that the EIS process is not capable of comprehensive salmon recovery given their limited congressional authority. Instead, they suggested that a regional, collaborative approach might be more appropriate.

We are thankful that our northwest governor’s have heard our calls and are investigating a new, collaborative, regional approach to salmon recovery, while the EIS is litigated in the courts.

However, we cannot afford to let the governor’s process become yet another round of inconclusive talk as salmon runs remain imperiled and the science supporting the urgent need for a free-flowing Snake RIver continues to grow. Spending more time talking just to tweak the status quo won’t cut it as our window of recovery gets shorter and shorter. The governor's process needs to reach a resolution very soon if it is going to have any chance at success.

For this process to be successful, it is important that the governor’s offices fully engage the Tribes and key congressional offices early and often, especially as the process is developed. This type of collaborative approach creates an opportunity to inform federal legislation that corrects historic injustices and builds more resilient communities. The northwest congressional delegation must engage with this process so they can help set the stage in Congress for the federal legislation that will be needed to implement a comprehensive solution that restores a free-flowing lower Snake River.

Once the appropriate stakeholders and sovereigns have a seat at the table, they must prioritize conversation about removing the lower Snake River dams. While there are many opportunities for salmon recovery that the group will likely want to discuss, the recent federal conclusions that the Snake River dams are a predominant source of salmon mortality and heat pollution in the Columbia River Basin clearly suggests that urgent action needs to be taken on this front.

Northwest Steelheaders has been fighting for a collaborative approach to salmon recovery in the Snake River basin since before these dams were even constructed. Our elected representatives are finally starting to listen—so make your voice heard! Take two minutes to email your electeds. Urge them to support this regional collaborative process. Tell them we need to work together to create a comprehensive legislation package that restores a free-flowing lower Snake River.