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
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.