Critical measure for orca, Chinook salmon recovery funded in state budget

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Funding will convene stakeholders to discuss breaching lower Snake river dams

Environment Washington

Olympia, Wash. — The Washington State Legislature has included $750,000 in the biennial operating budget to “establish a process for local, state, tribal, and federal leaders and stakeholders to address issues associated with the possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake river dams in order to recover the Chinook salmon populations that serve as a vital food source for southern resident orcas.” The budget item was one of the Orca Recovery Task Force recommendations issued last fall and was requested by Gov. Inslee in his budget.

“Bringing together stakeholders and addressing community needs in the event that the lower Snake river dams are breached is an important step in the process as we work to save our orcas and salmon,” said Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Director. “The stakeholder forum will help to ensure that we take the necessary steps to save our salmon and orcas with the least impact on communities.”

“We need to be prepared if the federal government decides to move forward with dam removal so we can do what’s best for fish, farmers and dam operators,” said Sen. Jesse Salomon, who championed getting the budget request. “This stakeholder forum will be the method we use to do that.”

Just 75 Southern Resident orcas remain today. Since 1998, 73 have died, while only 41 have been born and survived. Orca populations are decreasing primarily as a result of the disappearance of Chinook salmon — the orcas’ main food source.

This decline is happening because the salmons’ path from spawning rivers into the Puget Sound is blocked by multiple dams. In total, the Lower Snake River dams obstruct 140 miles of prime salmon migration waterways, and salmon populations have declined by 90 percent since they were built. All Snake River salmon runs are now listed as endangered, including the Chinook salmon that orcas depend on.

Last week, Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson spoke out about restoring salmon and steelhead populations in the Pacific Northwest and that he and his staff are asking the “what if” questions in the event that the lower Snake river dams are removed. He said he is working with affected stakeholders to identify options for replacing the services currently provided by these dams in the event that they need to be removed.

“It’s promising to see bipartisan voices in Idaho and Washington come together to recognize the importance of this stakeholder discussion and planning process for our salmon and orcas,” added Speight.

“We thank Gov. Inslee, Sen. Salomon, Sen. Rolfes and Rep. Fitzgibbon for their leadership in securing this funding and advancing this recommendation. To save the orcas, we need to save their food source and the science is clear that restoring salmon habitat on the lower Snake river is a critical step. If we don’t act fast to boost Chinook salmon populations, we could lose our orcas forever,” concluded Speight.


Environment Washington is a statewide, membership-based environmental advocacy organization.