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
  • SENIOR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking a Senior Environmental Planner to lead the Nature in the City team. This interdisciplinary position is housed in...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League (ICL) is seeking a dynamic community engagement assistant. The individual will work to identify and empower members, supporters, volunteers, and others...
  • VOICES OF WISDOM 2019 SOUTHWEST
    May 25 & 26 At the bank of the Colorado River, at Riverbend Park in Palisade, Colorado, the Sacred Fire Community in the Grand Valley...
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney