Author: Madelyn Kearns
A collective of more than 50 fishing companies, trade groups and conservation groups signed and sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump encouraging him and his administration to look into the removal of four dams along the lower Snake River basin in the name of reviving wild salmon and steelhead stocks that once thrived in the area.
A court-ordered analysis geared toward salmon and steelhead recovery within the Columbia and Snake Rivers is already underway, and has garnered support from organizations such as Sage, Costa, Echo, Fishpond and the America Flyfishing Trade Association. The Snake River basin in particular – which touches along the states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington – is of high interest to the companies, considering it’s historically the largest producer of spring and summer runs of Chinook salmon as well as summer steelhead in the entire Columbia River Basin, according to conservation group Trout Unlimited.
Approximately 70 percent of wild salmon and steelhead recovery potential in the entire Columbia Basin is concentrated in the Snake River basin. For the area to reach its recovery potential, “wild fish survival rates need to more than double, which will require large survival improvements in the lower Snake River where four dams and reservoirs take a heavy toll on migrating fish,” according to the letter’s signers.
“When thinking about the annual cost of salmon and steelhead recovery, the benefit of doing something bold like removing the Lower Snake river dams may actually prove to be a better return on investment than the current status quo,” Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, said. “And for that reason we believe it should get serious consideration as recovery alternatives are being evaluated.”
The letter urges Trump to reevaluate the area by taking “a science-based, transparent look at alternatives, finding ways to both recover steelhead while meeting the needs of local economies and communities.”
“When considering Snake River Dam operations, we need to consider the potential benefit to the regional recreational economy. Recovering fishable populations of wild steelhead is part of our business. No fish…no fishing. For the long term viability of not only our business, but the sportsman’s economy in the Northwest, we need to review breaching the Lower Snake River Dams,” said Tag Kleiner, VP of Marketing at Far Bank Enterprises, in a news release.
Read the letter, postmarked on 6 February, below:
RE: Federal Columbia River Power System
Dear President Trump:
Wild salmon and steelhead of the Columbia and Snake River basins are a national treasure. Actions taken in the next decade will determine whether they thrive or go extinct. Right now, their future is bleak with status quo management. Major changes are needed to rebuild wild salmon and steelhead populations that are abundant and resilient and provide economic and quality of life benefits to local communities.
Your administration has an immediate opportunity to redirect recovery efforts in a way that can achieve this goal. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that your administration is embarking on is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal agencies that manage the Columbia and Snake river hydrosystem — and all stakeholders of the region — to work together to ensure that wild salmon and steelhead thrive once more. The court-ordered NEPA process will evaluate alternatives for managing the federal hydropower system in a way that recovers wild salmon and steelhead.
Specifically, we are asking for a NEPA process with the following attributes: (1) objective, transparent analysis; (2) use of the best available scientific and economic information; (3) opportunities for meaningful public engagement throughout the process; and (4) independent third-party peer review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that will emerge from this process. In our view, these attributes are critical to instilling public confidence in the outcome.
This NEPA process provides an opportunity to take a fresh look at salmon and steelhead recovery in relation to the Columbia and Snake hydropower system, and come up with a set of actions that will restore healthy, fishable populations of wild salmon and steelhead, as well as improve local economies and quality of life. We stand ready to work with you, the federal agencies, and all stakeholders to identify those actions.
We particularly want to draw your attention to the Snake River Basin and the plight of its wild salmon and steelhead. The Snake Basin holds approximately 70 percent of wild salmon and steelhead recovery potential in the entire Columbia Basin due to its high habitat quality, but wild fish survival needs to more than double current levels and that will require large survival improvements in the lower Snake River where four dams and reservoirs take a heavy toll on migrating fish.
Removing the lower Snake dams is the only action identified to date with the potential to yield the survival improvements necessary to recover wild Snake River salmon and steelhead. As such, we believe it should be thoroughly analyzed in the NEPA process.
The analysis of lower Snake River dam removal should include both the potential wild fish benefits as well as the actions necessary to replace the benefits the dams provide. Mitigating actions must be fully assessed, such as improvements in rail transportation, new irrigation systems for irrigators who withdraw water from lower Snake River reservoirs, and investments in renewable energy, conservation and electric grid improvements. The potential non-fish benefits of restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River should also be analyzed, such as elimination of flow augmentation from the upper Snake River, elimination of costly sediment dredging behind Lower Granite dam and new recreation opportunities.
Our organizations and companies are committed to working with you, your federal agencies, and all Columbia Basin stakeholders to recover irreplaceable wild salmon and steelhead, a defining feature of our region. The vast benefits of restored fisheries will be reaped throughout the basin, from Redfish Lake, Idaho, to the mouth of the Columbia, as well as along the coast, from Oregon, to Washington, and Alaska.
We urge you to seize this opportunity by conducting a first-class NEPA process that will serve as a firm foundation for the actions that will allow these magnificent fish to thrive again and revitalize Columbia Basin communities.