Conservation News

The Good Fight: Free Idaho’s Lower Snake River

A new proposal to take out the Lower Snake River Dams could restore both salmon and orcas, as well as tribal fishing rights.

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The Pacific Northwest’s salmon returns have been diminishing for years, with repercussions ranging from economic hardship among fishing fleets to the decline of the region’s southern resident orcas. While many attempts have been made at mitigation, these stopgap measures have failed in the absence of the one action that most agree would truly make a difference–removing the dams on the Lower Snake River. Then last week the representative from Idaho’s District 2, Mike Simpson, put forward a proposal in Congress to do just that. His plan to breach the earthwork berms bordering the four dams would, according to several studies, restore the lost salmon runs, which would in turn boost the teetering population of resident orcas, who rely on salmon for their food (the transient populations, which have remained much healthier, mostly eat marine mammals like seals).

“About 70 to 80 percent of juvenile salmon mortality occurs within 1 mile of a dam, with the other 20 to 30 percent being spread out over hundreds of miles of river,” says Shari Tarantino, executive director of the northwest nonprofit Orca Conservancy. “Removing the Lower Snake River dams could result in an additional 15 million juvenile Chinook reaching the sea.” The restoration of the lost salmon habitat and return of both salmon and steelhead to the Snake River would also fulfill treaty obligations related to tribal fishing rights in the Columbia Basin that have been ignored for decades. Shannon Wheeler, chairman of the Nez Perce tribe, told the Seattle Times that he hopes this rare opportunity will be taken full advantage of, adding that “the landscape will thank you for that.” The proposal also includes funds for waterfront restoration, community redevelopment, and power replacement for the energy lost in the dam breaches all along the river corridor.

Want to show your support for this bold move? Contact your representative (you can even use a prewritten letter from Defenders of Wildlife) to show your support for restoring the Snake River salmon runs today.