In the early morning hours before daybreak on May 2 in the fire-impacted conifer forest near Seiad Valley in the Klamath River watershed, 27 people including Tribal youth, river advocates and forest activists blocked the road leading to the Klamath National Forest’s Westside salvage logging project.
Demonstrators held banners that read ‘Karuk Land: Karuk Plan,’ recited call and response chants, and testified to the timber sales’ impact on ailing salmon populations. Work was delayed for approximately four hours, according to a news release from the river advocates.
The protesters said the Westside Salvage Logging Project would clear cut more than 5,700 acres on steep slopes above Klamath River tributaries and along 320 miles of roads within Klamath National Forest. Post-fire logging and hauling began in late April, before legal claims brought forth by a lawsuit led by the Karuk Tribe could be considered in court.
“The Forest Service should follow the Karuk Plan on Karuk Land. Traditional knowledge of fire helps everything stay in balance because it’s all intertwined,” said Dania Rose Colegrove of the Klamath Justice Coalition. “When you destroy the forests, you destroy the rivers.”
The protesters said the Westside plan, unlike the Karuk Alternative, calls for clear cut logging on steep slopes right above several of the Klamath River’s most important salmon-bearing streams, at a time when returning salmon numbers are reaching record lows.
Members of local Tribal youth councils who participated in the protest see Westside salvage logging as a threat to their future.
“Today I showed up and stood up for what is right for future generations,” said Lacey Jackson, a 16-year old Hoopa Tribal Youth Council member. “My cultural and traditional livelihood is being threatened, and the way they are going about this logging is a big part of that. I will continue to stand up for me, my people and future generations.”
River advocates say the Forest Service plan to clear-cut thousands of acres above the Klamath River disregards the reasonable Karuk Alternative and hurts at-risk salmon and river communities. They believe a healthy Klamath River requires sensible forest restoration that addresses the needs of both fish and people, like that laid out in the Karuk plan.
Federal and state fisheries agency scientists estimate that there are only approximately 142,200 Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon in the ocean this year, based on the returns of two-year-old salmon, called “jacks” and “jills.” The salmon from the Klamath and Sacramento River make up the majority of salmon taken in California’s ocean and inland fisheries.
The low numbers of Klamath and Trinity River fish expected to return to the river and tributaries this year will result in more restricted seasons for both the recreational and commercial fisheries on the ocean and recreational and Tribal fisheries on the rivers this season.
During a meeting on Klamath dam removal in Sacramento in March, Thomas Wilson, a member of the Yurok Tribal Council and owner of Spey-Gee Point Guide Service, described the dire situation that the salmon fishery is in this year.
“This season will be devastating for fishermen and people on the river. Usually we get around 12,000 fish for subsistence on the river and what’s left goes to the commercial fishery. This year our entire Tribal quota is only about 5,900 fish,” he explained.
“The people are praying that the science predicting the low numbers is wrong. If we don’t protect the fish now, it will hurt us down the road. As Yuroks and natives, we are conservationists. We want make sure enough to keep seed for the all of the resources for future generations,” Wilson said.
The last thing that the watershed needs, at a time when the fishery is in crisis, is a Forest Service-approved clear cutting plan that further threatens salmon and steelhead habitat.
A federal judge on Aug. 26 denied a request by the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and Westlands Water District for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the higher supplemental flows from Trinity Reservoir being released to stop a fish kill on the lower Klamath River.
The releases that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began last week, resulting from requests by the Hoopa Valley and Yurok Tribe fishery scientists to release Trinity River water to stop a fish kill–like that one that killed up to 78,000 adult salmon in September 2002–will continue. The two Tribes, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources were intervenors for the defendant, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the U.S. Department of Interior, in the litigation.
Trinity River below the Lewiston Dam during last year’s supplemental water releases (Photo: Dan Bacher)
In his decision, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill said,
The Court concludes that there is no clear showing of likelihood of success on the merits. Even if Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of at least one of their claims against Reclamation in connection with the 2015 FARs (Flow Augmentation Releases), the balance of the harms does not warrant an injunction at this time.
“The potential harm to the Plaintiffs from the potential, but far from certain, loss of added water supply in 2015 or 2016 does not outweigh the potentially catastrophic damage that ‘more likely than not’ will occur to this year’s salmon runs in the absence of the 2015 FARs,” ruled O’Neill.
This denial of the request by corporate agribusiness interests to halt badly needed flows for the lower Klamath River is a big victory for the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Yurok Tribe and fishing groups. Both this year and last, Tribal activists held protests demanding the release of Trinity River to stop a fish kill.
Editor’s Note: The following is a response we got on our recent article Ways to Fight Reliance on the Violent War Economy. We believe that discourses and discussions are important to further our analysis. In order to encourage that, we encourage our readers to participate in comments at the end of the article. You could also send us written responses to us. If you want to submit responses to any of our published pieces, please mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org putting “Letter to Editor” as a subject.
The article “Ways to Fight Reliance on the Violent War Economy” is superficially a feel-good take about promoting peace instead of war, promoting community and collaboration instead of competition. The author correctly identifies how the global human supremacy culture (although she doesn’t call it that) we all live within rewards a belief that we are somehow separate from the natural world, rather than human animals living as part of and utterly dependent on the natural world; a belief that results in a war economy—a culture and economy that is at war with the natural world, and with the living beings, including humans, who live on Earth.
However, many of the author’s suggestions for cultivating a peace economy fall short. I’ll highlight just a few of the problems I see with the article.
The author suggests we move into a culture of peace by beginning with ourselves. “We begin to break our war economy habits… we purposefully invest ourselves at the local level in what is often called the peace economy—the caring, sharing, supportive economies that already exist all around us.”
I completely agree that all efforts to end industrial civilization must begin with ourselves—we must, after all, understand deep in our own hearts that industrial civilization is a war on nature and thus a war on each of us as individuals—but we cannot stop there. We know that personal change does not equal political or social change. We must go beyond personal change if we have any hope of dismantling this ecocidal way of life.
We all live in local communities to one degree or another. Some of us are invested in these local communities more than others; some participate by supporting local farmers and buying local goods and services rather than from big international conglomerates; others participate by offering services to help families in need or by volunteering in their communities. I am lucky to live in a community where people are heavily invested in these ways. But it should be obvious that participating in our local communities does very little to stop the global industrial Machine. It makes us feel good. It helps some local people. It fosters community spirit and resilience that will be vital once this insane way of life collapses.
But it’s not enough. To stop the Machine, we must do more. We must actively fight against it, either as above ground activists building campaigns against mines, against development, against logging, and so on, or as underground activists working to dismantle the industrial Machine with direct action.
I don’t want to suggest that encouraging people to participate in a “peace economy” is a waste of time; it isn’t. But we must always understand that it is not enough. We must be willing to fight back in this war on nature.
In addition, while many of the author’s concrete suggestions might sound good on the surface, some encourage and contribute to the “war economy” the author is purportedly advocating against.
Here are just a few notes I made while reading the author’s suggestions.
In one of the points, the author suggests that “Creative cooperatives are reclaiming real estate and … shaping the culture of cities across the U.S.” and that this can help build a “peace economy”. In a later point, the author notes the “free-food fridges stocked in cities around the world” to help people get through the initial phase of the ongoing Covid pandemic.
While providing better access to housing, community spaces, and food to underserved communities in cities is certainly a good thing, the author fails to note that cities themselves are incredibly destructive, requiring the support of often 100 times or more land than the city itself takes up, thus taking land away from the natural world in order to support the large populations of cities. This is not “peace”; this is war on nature. Cities are an integral part of the “war economy” and our goal should be to eliminate them, not make them incrementally better.
In another point, the author suggests that dam removal on the Klamath River is the result of “Indigenous-led community activism.” While I certainly support everyone opposing dams and advocating that dams be removed from rivers, unfortunately the Klamath River Dams coming down has little to do with Native American activism, and everything to do with economics. The cost of building mandated fish ladders would have been much more than removing the dams, and the dams produced less than 2% of one utility’s electricity supply. It simply made economic sense to remove the dams.
Economics is usually the reason projects destructive to the environment fail or are cancelled, despite the efforts of activists. The reason is that the law in the United States (and in most countries) does not protect the environment; indeed, the law actively and directly supports and encourages development and extraction. A prime example of this is the 1872 U.S. mining law which says that extraction is the highest use of U.S. public land. Not even the minerals below the surface in our National Parks are exempt from the right, by law, of corporations to extract those minerals if it’s economical. It is essentially illegal to refuse corporations access to these minerals for extraction.
Rather than make a feel-good but erroneous point about indigenous-led activism and the Klamath River dams, the author might have better made her point by discussing community efforts to pass Rights of Nature legislation, or by pointing out the futility of fighting corporations and states via the law and encouraging communities to band together and take direct action instead.
The author writes that “Fire recovery efforts in Oregon and California have largely been community-led, and networks have formed among neighbors to create resilience and support—including grief spaces like those created in Ashland, Oregon, which provide a space for people to share their experiences of loss.” While I agree that it is wonderful communities have come together to support one another after losing their homes in fires across Oregon and California, the truth is that many of the homes and towns lost to fire in these states were built where they should never have been built—in areas particularly susceptible to fire (natural or otherwise). These houses and towns were likely built on the dead bodies of the natural communities these areas previously supported. As these states become more and more populated, developments expand into more fire-prone areas that inevitably burn. Rebuilding these developments might sound good on the surface, but look more closely and we see that this simply perpetuates the idea that humans can use the environment however we want, rather than respecting limits of population and development, and the right of nature to exist and flourish.
The last point I’ll mention is about the author’s suggestion that “People are reimagining safety through alternatives to policing.” I will be the first to acknowledge that police have become militarized in recent years and this is dangerous and counter-productive. However, we also know that most underserved city communities want more police, not fewer. This has been stated so many times now, the idea that “alternatives to policing” in cities is actually desirable should have been put to rest.
When we shove hundreds of thousands or millions of people together in a city–an unnatural habitat for humans evolved to live in tribes of 150 or so with lots of space in between–police are an unfortunate requirement in order to keep the peace because the “rats in the cage” so-to-speak (with apologies to rats) will fight each other to the death in these unnatural and cruel conditions.
I believe war is primarily the result of disputes over land, resources, and ideology–all related to ecological overshoot and civilization. One of the primary drivers of ecological overshoot is population, and it seems obvious that the more population increases, so too will disputes over land, resources, and ideology. Those who wish to foster a “peace economy” must surely recognize this. I’m surprised that “Educating women” and “Addressing over-population” are not mentioned in the article, because educating women is the primary way we can humanely reduce the human population on Earth and bring it below carrying capacity once again, resulting in far fewer reasons to war with one another.
Another glaring omission from this article is a biocentric view, one that centers the natural world. It is lovely to recognize and highlight where people are being kind to one another and attempting to reduce our impacts on the environment. But until we truly and deeply understand that we are human animals, and that the Machine—the war economy, as the author describes it—we have put in motion is completely at odds with the natural world and thus with ourselves, these paltry efforts at a peace economy will fail to make significant change in the war economy.
Ultimately, I find this article depressing. Not only does it spin unpeaceful things like cities and industrially-supported agriculture to try to sound positive, it is a reminder of how we grasp at ridiculously tiny straws to find anything even remotely positive to discuss in a world the Machine is rapidly destroying, with greater speed each and every day.
Yes, we should recognize the good things humans do to help each other. And, I believe, we should always describe the broader context of the culture in which these good things happen—the war on the natural world, which spawns countless wars against each other. Until we stop the war on the natural world, these wars we fight against each other will never end.
Editor’s Note: Building up local structures is an essential part of fighting the militarized global culture. The following piece explains how that is being done in many places across the world. That said, it is important to understand that such structures are only effective if they are a part of a wider culture of resistance.
All cities are unsustainable, they are built on the surplus that is created through agriculture. They require the importation of resources. Then the land-base and functioning ecosystems are destroyed as they grow. Civilization is a war on nature. This article is anthropocentric but it does point out how the self-organizing super organism that is the globalized capitalist economy operates and controls people. DGR’s battle is not one of a person’s identity, we fight to protect nature.
War is not innate to humanity; it is learned culturally, and intentional systems of peace can prevent it from happening, according to anthropological research. We are living at a critical time in the history of humanity in which preventing and divesting from war are essential to our future existence—especially given the realities of the global climate crisis and the fact that the U.S. military is the worst single polluter that exists (and not even mentioning the unspeakable potential for destruction that nuclear weapons pose). If war is cultural, then we can prevent it by intentionally moving ourselves into a culture of peace. How do we do this? We begin with ourselves. We begin to break our war economy habits, and actively divest ourselves, wherever possible, from the ways in which the war economy takes hold in our lives. And we purposefully invest ourselves at the local level in what is often called the peace economy—the caring, sharing, supportive economies that already exist all around us.
The economy of war thrives on extraction and materialism, so it has—for thousands of years, and by no accident—made trite (or violently stifled) the things that are most valuable and important about living: caring; nurturing; love; art; peace; expression; and connection with nature, our bodies, and each other. The war economy, which is the overarching economic system of our times, promotes a culture that actively devalues play and community, and overly values hard work and individualism—to the grave detriment of mental and physical health. It uplifts money hoarding, competition, and the flaunting of one’s material wealth over generosity, sharing, collaboration, and appreciation. It stifles grief and asks us to harden ourselves against the expression of feeling rather than inviting us into depths of emotion where we can realize the gift of being alive in this world, together, for just a brief time.
The results of this unsustainable and unnatural lifestyle are ugly: Clear-cut, monocropped tree farms where once thrived biodiverse FernGully-esque old grove forests in the Pacific Northwest, the Amazon, and around the world; endless mining and building projects that plunder habitats, natural wonders, and Indigenous communities; worsening mental health afflictions, an opioid addiction epidemic, and soaring suicide rates; toxic chemicals and microplastics in our soils, oceans, streams, and bloodstreams that are causing irreparable damage to the planet and our bodies; people treated like criminals for experiencing homelessness, even amidst a devastating cost of living crisis; racist, militarized police murdering people in broad daylight, and often walking free even when they’re caught on camera; hustle and greed culture and the agony that comes with living a daily grind; so much unnecessary loneliness and stress… and this list could go on and on.
But a movement is building from the commons to break with these war economy ways and replenish ways of being that are actually livable. Around the world, there are projects, people, and organizations creating solutions to the problems of our times. They are actively helping in divesting from the war economy in powerful ways. These examples of the local peace economy in action demonstrate that it is possible to create systems in which wealth and worth are rooted in equitable, community-centered care practices like health care for all, farming and feeding each other, parenting and education that are entrenched in love and engagement, and a culture that uplifts us and inspires interconnection.
The peace economy is built brick by brick, through the commitments of individual people and communities. What follows are some examples (of many more that exist worldwide) showing how people and communities are divesting from the war economy and investing in a future centered in peace, love, and aliveness:
Communities in the Pacific Northwest have been working to regionalize food supply chains through relocalized flour mills and community garden programs. These efforts have paid off in creating food security for communities while also leading to greater job opportunities and a thriving ecosystem.
Palestinian farmers have been rekindling connections with Indigenous farming practices and creating community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs to resist Israeli colonialism. This has helped Palestinians to reconnect with their land and economically support locally grown food.
Black, formerly incarcerated people in Chicago are challenging the megacorporations that tend to dominate food contracting with schools and other large facilities in America by prepping locally sourced meals for schools, nursing homes, and transitional housing. The Chicago worker cooperative ChiFresh Kitchen is 100 percent employee-owned and provides nutritious and culturally appropriate food to these institutions and facilities.
There are many networks of Indigenous seed savers and others keeping and propagating seeds in community gardens and cooperative programs in the U.S. and around the world. Indigenous-led communities like Seeding Sovereignty and many others are keeping their spiritual connections and cultural practices alive through their connections with seeds, and seed savers are challenging the monocrop-based Big Ag industry that is responsible for so much deforestation and other climate destruction. These networks have also helped bring back “Indigenous foodways that were lost during genocide and forced relocation” inflicted by European colonizers.
The Deep Medicine Circle in the San Francisco Bay Area, a women of color-led, worker-directed 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is one group that is rethinking health care at its roots, and healing the ways U.S. colonial extraction is making people sick. Local community members who make up Deep Medicine Circle are creating systems of health and care, through the lens of community food justice. They’re planting community gardens and thinking up long-term models of localized food and community engagement that uplift Indigenous practices, provide access to healthy foods in poor urban neighborhoods, and dismantle colonialist ways of thinking and being in the world.
Neighbors are voluntarily keeping free-food fridges stocked in cities around the world, in a mutual aid movement that gained speed in response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. People have fed and cared for each other through the pandemic and beyond, creating a free-fridge movement that has raised awareness about racial inequity in food systems.
Sallie Calhoun’s Paicines Ranch in California is working to bring agricultural business and investment up to date with our times and closer to nature by prioritizing ecosystem health, habitat, and the sequestration of carbon through soil practices. The project was founded with the aim of working with the dynamic natural world to explore ways of building healthy ecosystems while growing crops and supporting community through food. Paicines Ranch is intentionally creating a model of doing business that is focused on managing complexities rather than solving problems, and is centered on adding true value over profits.
Outside of the food system, examples of other applications of mutual aid, social justice, creative arts, community resilience, and activism for human rights and the environment that all embrace the peace economy include:
People are reimagining safety through alternatives to policing. Safety in the peace economy comes from the engagement of community and the reallocation of resources and funding into programs of care—not militarized police forces and punitive systems of justice. While many alternatives to policing already exist, recent initiatives after the murder of George Floyd by police in May 2020 have introduced changes, both big and small, across the U.S., and the global uprisings against systemic racism have led to these issues being part of the mainstream conversation.
Creative cooperatives are reclaiming real estate and bringing access to art, living spaces, and community spaces back to marginalized Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in Oakland and elsewhere who have played an integral part in shaping the culture of cities across the U.S.
Fire recovery efforts in Oregon, California, and elsewhere have depended on people-led mutual aid projects and local volunteer networks. Devastating fires, worsened by climate change and the criminal negligence of public utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), have been increasing in recent years, some of them incinerating entire towns. Fire recovery efforts in Oregon and California have largely been community-led, and networks have formed among neighbors to create resilience and support—including grief spaces like those created in Ashland, Oregon, which provide a space for people to share their experiences of loss.
People are fighting the fossil fuel industry while building community spaces and support for people who are homeless in New Mexico. The grassroots project is part of a larger project in New Mexico. SOL for All has brought solar power to various locations across the state in an effort to support alternative energy solutions, which are necessary to combat climate change.
The largest dam removal in historystarted in 2023 in southern Oregon and Northern California, thanks to years of Indigenous-led community activism. The Karuk, Yurok, and other Native American groups for whom the Klamath River Basin is their ancestral home since time immemorial have been organizing against the dams since they were proposed in the 1910s—which have had disastrous results for people, salmon, and other wildlife—for decades. After multigenerational efforts, the massive dam removal project is expected to be completed by 2024.
Many people are also building a peace economy through creative sharing efforts and alternatives to money-based exchanges. This includes community gardens, mutual aid groups, and participation in the solidarity economy, and just transition efforts like those of Americans with jobs sharing their stimulus checks with those in need in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are also creating skill share networks like Kola Nut Collaborative and others, and millions of people daily are sharing tools and operating in a moneyless economy via “free” signs on street corners, Craigslist’s “free stuff” page, Freecycle, and other creative routes.
The above are just some of the countless examples of the peace economy in action—and most of these efforts were started by just one or two people deciding to do something about the problems they saw happening in their local community.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deep Green Resistance, the News Service or its staff.
Relocalizing the Planet with Helena Norberg-Hodge
To know more about global movements for localization, listen to this Green Flame episode on relocalization:
Editor’s note: Of course this proposal has to be framed with the usual politicians blabla and pledges about “prosperous agriculture”, “affordable, reliable clean energy” and “revitalizing the economy”, which are all bright green lies. Apart from that, any dam that will really physically be removed is a step into the right direction and an absolutely necessary measure to save the last remaining wild salmon.
This article first appeared on Truthout and was produced in partnership with Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute
Featured image: chinook and orca – NOAA Fisheries
By Amy Souers Kober
It’s hard to put into words what wild salmon mean to the Pacific Northwest. They are the heartbeat of the region’s rivers, and the annual return of salmon from the Pacific Ocean helps sustain a web of life in the Columbia River Basin that includes more than 130 species, from eagles to black bears to orcas. These incredible fish have been a cornerstone of Indigenous cultures for thousands of years.
“Our story, and that of the salmon, is one of perseverance and resilience and thriving,” said Dr. Sammy Matsaw, a Shoshone-Bannock tribal member, veteran and co-founder of the nonprofit River Newe. “We’re still here and we’re still strong. This is about who we are and who we want to be.”
Migrations are common among many species, but the journey that the salmon make is one of the most amazing. Salmon hatch from eggs laid in the gravel of clear, cold mountain streams. After hatching, the young salmon ride swift river currents downstream to the ocean. Their bodies undergo amazing physiological changes as they transition from living in freshwater to saltwater. And then they eventually go back to freshwater: After a couple of years in the ocean, the adult salmon find their way back to the same spawning beds in the same rivers where they were born.
Idaho salmon make one of the world’s most epic migrations, swimming 900 miles and climbing over a mile in elevation from the Pacific Ocean up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to mountain streams where they spawn and die, beginning the circle of life again.
But salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake Rivers are in trouble, in large part because of the damage to their natural habitat by hydropower dams.
The Snake River was historically the biggest salmon producer in the Columbia Basin, with an estimated “2 million to 6 million fish… [returning to] the Snake River and its tributaries” each year, according to Russ Thurow, a fisheries research scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise, Idaho, who was quoted in the Idaho Mountain Express. But “[b]y 1995, only 1,200 wild Chinook reached the Snake River basin,” said Thurow.
According to scientists, the steep decline in the wild Snake River salmon population can be attributed to the construction of the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington, built “between 1955 and 1975 to turn the inland town of Lewiston, Idaho, into a seaport.” These four federally owned and operated dams have caused a precipitous decline in wild salmon and steelhead trout in the Snake River Basin, driving some populations to extinction and landing the rest on the endangered species list. “Sockeye salmon from the Snake River system are probably the most endangered salmon,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. “Coho salmon in the lower Columbia River may already be extinct.”
As Chinook salmon grow ever more scarce, they are pulling another Northwest icon—Southern Resident orcas—toward extinction. This population of orcas migrates back and forth between Puget Sound, the Salish Sea and the Washington and Oregon coasts. One of the main factors for the Southern Resident orcas being critically endangered is the lack of food, with Chinook salmon making up “more than 80 percent of their diet.” In the U.S., the Columbia-Snake River watershed is the most important source of salmon for orcas. The four lower Snake River dams not only interrupt the free-flowing water but also kill “millions of Chinook juveniles” as the salmon attempt to make their way to the ocean.
One orca mother, Tahlequah, made national news in 2018 when she carried the body of her dead calf for 17 days. The region mourned with her. The heartbreak galvanized people across the Northwest to demand solutions.
Over the past 20 years, the federal government and Northwest taxpayers have made massive investments in salmon recovery in the Columbia-Snake River Basin, totaling more than $17 billion. These actions, including modifications to dam operations, have been necessary to reverse the impacts of historic habitat loss, overharvest, and the damage caused by hydropower projects, but have not been sufficient to recover salmon and steelhead to healthy, harvestable and sustainable numbers.
In the short documentary film The Greatest Migration by Save Our Wild Salmon, Ed Bowles, who has run the fish division of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the past two decades, said, “Historically, the Columbia River was the biggest salmon producer in the world… We are now struggling at around 1 percent of their historical potential. That is inexcusable for a system that is so iconic, a species that is so iconic, a system that is so magnificent.”
‘We Choose Salmon’
For decades, Northwest tribes have been spearheading salmon recovery solutions in the Columbia-Snake River Basin and regionwide. The Nimíipuu, or Nez Percé, Tribe adopted its first resolution advocating for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams in 1999. Removing these dams would restore 140 miles of the lower Snake River and improve access to more than 5,000 miles of pristine habitat in places like Idaho’s Salmon and Clearwater River systems.
In a 2020 statement, Shannon F. Wheeler, then chairman of the Nez Percé Tribal Executive Committee, said, “We view restoring the lower Snake River as urgent and overdue. To us, the lower Snake River is a living being, and, as stewards, we are compelled to speak the truth on behalf of this life force and the impacts these concrete barriers on the lower Snake have on salmon, steelhead, and lamprey, on a diverse ecosystem, on our Treaty-reserved way of life, and on our people.”
Today, tribal leaders are raising their voices again. In May 2021, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians—a group representing 57 Northwest tribal governments—passed a resolution calling for the breaching of the lower Snake dams. The resolution calls on Congress and the Biden administration to “seize the once-in-a-lifetime congressional opportunity to invest in salmon and river restoration in the Pacific Northwest, charting a stronger, better future for the Northwest, and bringing long-ignored tribal justice to our peoples and homelands.”
“Restoring the lower Snake River will allow salmon, steelhead and lamprey to flourish in the rivers and streams of the Snake Basin,” said Kat Brigham, chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) Board of Trustees in a February 8 press release. “This has long been a priority because these are the CTUIR’s ancestral traditional use areas, such as the Grande Ronde, Imnaha, Lostine, Minam, Tucannon and Wallowa Rivers and their tributaries.”
“We have reached a tipping point where we must choose between our Treaty-protected salmon and the federal dams, and we choose salmon,” Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin, was quoted saying in a press release.
‘America’s Most Endangered River’
My organization, American Rivers, named the Snake River “America’s Most Endangered River for 2021” because of the urgent need for action to save the salmon—and the opportunity to come up with a bold, comprehensive solution. In February, Congressman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) proposed a $33.5 billion package of infrastructure investments, including removing the lower Snake dams, to recover salmon runs and boost clean energy, agriculture and transportation across the region.
Showing his personal compassion toward the cause of salmon recovery, Simpson described salmon as “the most incredible creatures, I think, that God has created,” according to a 2019 article.
Meanwhile, a presentation titled, “The Northwest in Transition: Salmon, Dams and Energy,” on Simpson’s website states, “The question I am asking the Northwest delegation, governors, tribes and stakeholders is ‘do we want to roll up our sleeves and come together to find a solution to save our salmon, protect our stakeholders and reset our energy system for the next 50 plus years on our terms?’ Passing on this opportunity will mean we are letting the chips fall where they may for some judge, future administration or future [C]ongress to decide our fate on their terms. They will be picking winners and losers, not creating solutions.”
Since Simpson released his proposal, other members of the Northwest congressional delegation have joined the conversation. In May, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) spoke in favor of a comprehensive solution, saying, “People in the Pacific Northwest [need to] engage with one another.”
“Let’s dive in and do it rather than pretend that somehow this is going to go away. … That’s just not going to cut it,” he said.
Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Washington Governor Jay Inslee also released a statement in favor of a collaborative, comprehensive solution for salmon and the region.
No matter which proposal ultimately gains traction, American Rivers and other salmon advocates believe that we need meaningful immediate action and funding to remove the lower Snake dams and replace their benefits. Prioritizing the following five goals is essential to long-term solutions for salmon recovery and improving the present Northwest infrastructure:
1. Healthy rivers, abundant salmon: Restoration of the lower Snake River, along with the funding and implementation of habitat restoration and fish protection projects, will provide the most favorable river conditions possible for salmon, steelhead and other native fish species.
2. Honoring promises to tribes: Restoring abundant, harvestable salmon will honor the promises made to Northwest tribes by upholding their right to access fish and will benefit tribes from the inland Northwest to the coast.
3. Prosperous agriculture: Infrastructure upgrades will ensure irrigation from a free-flowing lower Snake River continues to support the farms that currently rely on surface diversions and wells for their orchards, vineyards and other high-value crops. Investments in the transportation system will allow farmers, who currently ship their grain to market using river barges, to transport their products via rail.
4. Affordable, reliable clean energy: The energy currently produced by the four lower Snake River dams can be replaced by a clean energy portfolio that includes solar, wind, energy efficiency and storage. Diversifying energy sources will improve the electric system’s reliability. Funding for energy storage, grid resiliency and optimization would allow the Northwest to maintain its legacy of clean and affordable energy.
5. Revitalizing the economy: Infrastructure investments in energy and transportation would mean more family-wage jobs, the impact of which ripples out in communities throughout the region. A restored lower Snake River would strengthen local economies by creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation, which will help support local businesses, including outfitters, lodging and restaurants.
It is time for bold action from Northwest leaders. The region’s congressional delegation has a strong history of crafting innovative, bipartisan solutions to challenging water and river issues. And we’ve seen powerful, collaborative dam removal efforts come together on other rivers across the country, from Maine’s Penobscot to Oregon and California’s Klamath. Now, with President Biden considering a national infrastructure package, the government has an opportunity to secure significant regional investment—and advance the biggest river restoration effort the world has ever seen. A well-crafted solution on a swift timeline would benefit the nation as a whole by restoring salmon runs, bolstering clean energy and strengthening the economy of one of the most dynamic regions in the country.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“The salmon are a life source that we all depend on. Just as we are united with each other, we are also united with the salmon,” said Samuel Penney, Nez Perce chairman. “We are all salmon people.”
Amy Souers Kober is the vice president of communications for American Rivers.