A new chance for Snake River salmon

  • Tim Palmer

 

With his Aug. 2 ruling that the federal government's plan for salmon recovery once again fails to meet requirements of the law, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has opened the door to a hopeful approach in efforts for recovery of wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. A better plan can be at once visionary, effective and economically beneficial for the people of the West and the nation. And it requires no great stretch of imagination.

The solution will be demonstrated this fall on Washington's Elwha River when the demolition of two tall dams gets under way. A great salmon river will, after a century, return to life.  Many people will cheer the river's reinstated flow, earn new livelihoods from its reinvigorated life, and share in the glow of achievement.

The same thing can happen on the lower Snake River where four dams block salmon on their spawning journeys. The Obama plan and those of the previous two administrations were not just against the law; they were plans designed to protect the past. But the way we've used this great river in the past will no longer work in the future. More needs can be satisfied and more money earned from a river that's allowed to do the work that healthy rivers do so well, ever since the salmon began their great migrations.

Recent surges in the numbers of fish returning to spawn offer little hope that the fundamental problems of the imperiled species have been solved. From historic highs of 16 million fish, the returns -- even in the productive year of 2009 -- were just a fraction of that: 2.2 million, and only an estimated 400,000 of those salmon were wild fish. The vast majority started their lives in hatcheries, which in some ways endanger the wild fish that naturally spawn in the rivers. Thirteen distinct runs of wild fish are listed as endangered or threatened, with populations well below the benchmarks for species survival.

Removing the four lower Snake River dams would restore healthy runs of salmon; it would create thousands of jobs in fishing, food, railroads and construction; and it would make our shared homeland here in the Northwest a better place for the next generation. To accomplish all this, we need to replace only 4 percent of the Northwest's electricity with affordable efficiency improvements and clean renewable energy -- creating additional jobs in the process. Railroads and road improvements can replace subsidized barging on the lower Snake upstream from Pasco, which constitutes only a small percentage of the Columbia River's barging.

While writing about rivers for the past 30 years, I've canoed, rafted and explored the waters in every corner of our nation, and the most remarkable change I've seen is the work of river restoration. People from Boise to Sacramento and from Los Angeles to Boston are resurrecting watery lifelines in ways that benefit not only fish but also communities and economies. By restoring rivers we show an essential sense of who we are as a people -- a nation that recognizes the value of heritage but refuses to remain stuck in the past, a nation that thrives because we allow nature to thrive around us.

As you watch the Elwha dams come down this fall, think of the other opportunities that lie ahead. Twenty years ago, restoring the Elwha seemed like an impossible dream; skeptics claimed that it would cost jobs and dishonor the past. But visionary -- and practical -- people prevailed, and a restored river will become a reality.

The opportunity being seized at the Elwha is not unique. For the Snake River, Judge Redden's ruling requires a legitimate salmon plan that includes removing dams. Great possibilities beckon, but only if we are willing to look toward tomorrow. As Abraham Lincoln said, "We must disenthrall ourselves from the past.  We must look anew, and think anew."

Tim Palmer is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is the author of Rivers of America, The Snake River: Window to the West, and 20 other books, and lives in Port Orford, Oregon.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND ACQUISTIONS SPECIALIST - RENEWABLE ENERGY
    Energiekontor US seeks experienced local candidate, must reside in western South Dakota. Send resume and cover letter to: [email protected]
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    TRANSPORTATION PLANNER Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the...
  • EARNED MEDIA MANAGER WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...