By Betsy Emery, Advocacy and Campaign Manager
May 21, 2021
I n February, Rep. Simpson sparked both excitement and hope across the Pacific Northwest with his visionary proposal to restore endangered salmon and invest in modernizing our energy and transportation infrastructure. Since then, there have been hundreds of conversations, webinars, and media about what a solution to this complex problem might look like. The enthusiasm has been so great in fact that now Rep. Blumenauer, Sen. Murray, and Gov. Inslee all recognize the need for urgent compromise and action.
One of the resounding messages we are continuing to hear: Salmon need drastic recovery measures right now. While this is something we’ve heard for decades, we can’t ignore this truth anymore, given the sobering extinction analysis from the Nez Perce Tribe reporting that nearly half of Snake River wild spring/summer Chinook are quasi extinct and the number is expected to grow significantly. As summers get hotter and drier, causing further stress to struggling salmon, we are seeing fishing seasons close in just a few short days. We need to take bold steps to ensure Idaho doesn’t lose salmon from the Snake, Clearwater, and Salmon rivers entirely, a reality we could experience in the very near future.
Make no mistake: The extinction crisis scientists have been raising alarm about is upon us.
Last week, Washington Senator Murray and Governor Inslee recognized the urgency for action and committed to “work with our Northwest Tribes, states, and all the communities that rely on the [Columbia] 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.”
However, they went on to reject the bipartisan and conversation-driven approach Reps. Simpson and Blumenauer have been taking, without articulating a clear path forward, alternative funding solutions, or a timeline for action.
Instead, Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee, and many other Northwest elected representatives, are leaning on the Columbia Basin Collaborative as the place to develop a lasting salmon solution based on science and consensus.
Relying on more process is problematic considering salmon are in an extinction vortex. Many of these runs do not have more time for another lengthy, improbable process of getting every stakeholder to consensus about what scientists have confirmed for decades: the four lower Snake River dams are killing 50% of juvenile salmon and blocking access to 50% of their remaining coldwater habitat. Removing these four dams would double wild salmon returns and put these runs on a path toward recovery.
The question is not whether to remove the four dams, it is about how best to offset the impact of their removal on Tribes, public utilities, agricultural growers, ports, waterfront communities, and energy producers.
Reps. Simpson and Blumenauer, and many Tribes across the Basin, are having conversations about how best to do that. Now, with Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee’s commitments to find an urgent solution, we need them to engage in this public conversation and finesse the details of a legislative funding package.
As the predicted drought this summer heats up and we start to feel the devastating effects of dismal returns, we need to think about the future we want for the region. Do we want to be able to catch a spring Chinook or winter steelhead in Lewiston, Idaho? Do we want to experience the joy of an abundant Buoy 10 fishery? Or do we want to look back and wish we had done something sooner? Will we say “our leaders had meetings while salmon went extinct” or will we tell future generations about how our electeds seized this important moment and took action?
This summer is a critical juncture in the future of Pacific Northwest salmon and only bold, urgent actions will change the course. Join us in calling on your elected representative to change the status quo. The conversation is underway and if they don’t engage in them, we stand to lose so much.