In the Pacific Northwest, fish cannot coexist with massive electricity demand.

by Max Wilbert

In 1980, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) was given a mission to protect and restore salmon and steelhead fish populations in addition to running the dams in the Columbia River Basin (the most dammed watershed in the world) for electricity generation.

There is a fundamental contradiction between the survival of fish and the existence of dams. To believe otherwise is to deceive yourself. As this new investigation shows, BPA has always prioritized electricity over fish.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric dams produce the vast majority of electricity. And they cannot be replaced with other energy sources quickly, because building new power plants, solar and wind energy facilities, transmission lines, etc. on a large scale takes decades. (And because people like me will fight to defend every scrap of wild habitat from these projects.)

“Just downriver, the half-mile-wide Bonneville dam chokes the Columbia to a halt. When the dam was built in 1937, Bonneville was the biggest dam in the world. Now, it’s one of the smallest of 14 major dams just on the main stem of the Columbia, and one of more than 500 dams in the watershed.”

— Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It

NB: Offshore wind is coming to Oregon and Washington, and it will be a disaster for seabirds [many of whose populations are already plummeting], fish, whales, other marine mammals, plankton, and our oceans. We who love the natural world must fight this.

This means that we have a choice, here in the PNW. Abundant electricity or fish. We can’t have both.

If we choose fish, that means we must get rid of the dams, which means we must reduce energy demand, and change many other things.

To me that is an easy choice.

This is not a new problem. Advocates for wild salmon and steelhead — those who truly stand with the fish — have been saying this for many years.

Either the dams go, or the fish go.

Max Wilbert is an organizer, writer, photographer, and wilderness guide. He is the co-author of Bright Green Lies: How The Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, which was released in 2021, the co-founder of Protect Thacker Pass, and is a longtime organizer with Deep Green Resistance.

Art by Liana Buzcka


    In What Image?
In what image have habitats been destroyed?
Small patch of woods in suburban landscape
chopped down for baseball fields and deck hockey rinks.
Destroying creation for recreation.
In what image? Baseball, hot dogs, apple pies and Chevrolets?
“Image” is an “artificial representation that looks like
a person or thing, copy, imitation, phantom.”
In what image have habitats been destroyed?
In God’s image?
As in “Then God said,
‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens
and over the livestock and over all the earth
and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”
Is this the blueprint for overpopulation, franchising and global corporations?
“And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply
and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over…’”
“…over every living thing that moves on the earth”
Is that the modus operandi for 24-7 surveillance?
Full spectrum dominance?
What’s wrong with the Winter image
of a snow-capped mountain
reflected in a crystal clear lake?
What’s wrong with an August lake
with the image of a forest reflected
upside down in still waters?
What’s wrong with the image
of a canoe gliding with fish and a clean river
in a gentle rain
under the stars?
What’s wrong with the image
of cloudy sky
in a dewdrop
on a flower?
If that’s not “God” then i’m an atheist.
What’s wrong with this picture:
a text with a photo of a sacred site,
oblivious that the site is slated for
the chopping block.
What’s wrong with this picture:
smiley family picnic
yet the trash they’ll leave
isn’t in the photo.
We don’t need to go to school
to learn how to
use our imaginations to make stuff up.
We need to look at what’s actually happening
and change what images we choose to copy.
STOP the choice of images of “sleek” “slick”
“sporty” “state of the art” “progress”
“because they’re doing it”
that destroy this fruitful world.
Let the Earth
and show us the way to live
with all the dizzying multitudinous array of natural images—
enough with the religio-corporate dominion over others.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge; you know, actions and feelings speak louder than words. He’s also a publisher and enjoys gardening, talking, listening, looking… His recent book is Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest: inside looking out. Find out more at his website: