Save America’s Wildlife

Movement on salmon recovery, from California to Washington

From California to Washington, federal officials and advocates are moving the needle on restoring critical habitat for salmon.

Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River.
Bonneville Power Administration | Public Domain
The Ice Harbor Dam on the lower Snake River is one of the dams that gets in the way of migrating salmon.

After decades of advocacy, work has officially begun on the world’s largest-ever dam-removal project. The Klamath River flows 257 miles through Oregon and northern California, and federal regulators have recently authorized the removal of four dams on the Klamath,  which will open up over 400 miles of upstream habitat.

This work can’t come soon enough, as recent salmon return forecasts are projecting low returns from California to the Pacific Northwest. Salmon are keystone species in Northwestern ecosystems, with over 137 other species, including endangered Southern Resident orcas relying on them for survival. 

In the same month that ground has been broken on the Klamath River recovery project, federal officials in the Biden Administration held a listening session aimed at gathering public input about the lower Snake River dams in Washington state. During the listening session held on March 31, fishermen, energy experts, rural businesses and families, youth leaders and salmon and orca advocates- including Environment Washington Advocate Pam Clough- called on the federal government to develop a plan to remove the four lower Snake River dams and replace the services they provide before Northwest salmon- and the orca that rely on them- go extinct. 

You can read Environment Washington’s testimony here:

It wasn’t long ago that we all watched as a 20-year-old orca mother, Tahlequah carried her dead calf for 17 days and 1,000 miles. Tahlequah’s journey was a gut-wrenching reminder of the southern Resident orcas’ plight.  

As others have mentioned, one of the main reasons why the Southern Resident orcas are critically endangered is because their primary food source- Chinook salmon- are in scarce supply all throughout their range, from northern California up to southeastern Alaska. Chinook salmon, the largest & fattiest of all the salmonid species, make up the majority of their diets.

We have focused on restoring the Lower Snake River in the Columbia River basin because this river has historically held some of the largest salmon runs in the region, and ~50% of the Chinook that orcas eat in coastal waters are from the Columbia Basin.  Breaching the Lower Snake River dams is the single biggest opportunity to rejuvenate endangered salmon populations, which the Southern Resident orcas depend on.

The science is clear- salmon in the Columbia basin are on a path to extinction. As Senator Murray and Gov. Inslee’s stated last summer in the release of their plan outlining how the services of the four Lower Snake River dams can be replaced- extinction of salmon- and everything that depends on them- is categorically unacceptable. 

Since 2019, our team of canvassers have gone door-to-door, talking to Washingtonians about this effort and of the thousands of people we’ve talked to, we’ve seen overwhelming support for breaching the dams to restore salmon. 

Our members are counting on Washington’s elected leaders- and the Biden Administration- to act boldly and act swiftly to restore habitat that these endangered species need to survive. We have alternatives for how we can power our society and move goods from one place to another. Salmon don’t have this choice. They need a river, and orca need salmon. 

Please follow through on the commitments that your Administration has made. Breach the Lower Snake River dams as quickly as possible so salmon and orca don’t go extinct.

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