Wild Salmon & Steelhead News is published monthly by the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition. Read on to learn about the Columbia-Snake River Basin’s endangered wild salmon and steelhead, the many benefits they deliver to people and ecosystems, and the extinction crisis they face today. Find out how SOS is helping lead efforts to restore health, connectivity, and resilience to the rivers and streams salmon depend upon in the Columbia-Snake Basin and how you can get involved to help restore healthy, abundant, and fishable populations and sustain more just and prosperous communities. To learn more and/or get involved, contact Martha Campos.
1. "These Abundant and Generous Homelands" by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest
2. ACT NOW #1: Urge Washington State Legislature to stop salmon extinction and ensure Snake River salmon recover and thrive
3. ACT NOW #2: The Biden Administration needs to hear from you on 3/31 about restoring the Snake River and its salmon!
4. Adult returns of Snake River fish predicted to decline again in 2023
5. Watch virtual screening and Q&A of ‘Our Sacred Obligation,’ a film by Children of Setting Sun Productions!
6. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission: 'Remembering Celilo Falls'
7. Northwest Artists Against Extinction: 'Honor: People & Salmon' exhibit
8. Snake River and salmon media roundup
“We must recall a time when we did not have
the things we think, we need
but had the whole living earth for free.
‘As long as the rivers run, as long as the tide flows,
and as long as the sun shines, you will have land,
fish and game for your frying pans,
and timber for your lodges.’
These were the promises
on which this state was founded,
these sacred homelands in which
the call of eagles resounded,
resplendent from the tops of towering cedars,
where none went hungry
when salmon were running,
in clear cool waters, these abundant
and generous homelands were given
in exchange for the promise
of a world, we could live in
a world that would keep giving,
to all in common,
for as long as the rivers run.”
— An excerpt from These Abundant and Generous Homelands
by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest
Watch Rena Priest, a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation and Washington State Poet Laureate, read "These Abundant and Generous Homelands" poem, written to the theme of “A Vision For A More Equitable 2023” at the 2023 State of the State address during the joint legislative session.
I Sing the Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State, edited by Rena Priest and published by Empty Bowl Press, is a new collection of poetry gathered by Priest, from more than 150 Washington poets ranging from first graders to Tribal Elders, all inspired by the Northwest’s beloved, iconic salmon. As Priest writes in her preface: “It is my hope that the poems in this collection will carry into the hearts of readers a wish to preserve and protect the gifts of salmon bestowed by a beautiful living earth.... May their good work continue to sing the salmon home.”
As part of the book release, join Empty Bowl Press and Rena Priest on upcoming readings in April:
Seattle Book Launch | April 8, 2023 at the Seattle Public Library
Olympia Book Launch | April 10, 2023 at the Washington State Capitol Building
In addition, please join the Honor: People & Salmon art exhibit’s closing reception with artists and Rena Priest, on April 15, 5:00-7:00 pm, hosted by Save Our wild Salmon Coalition and the University of Puget Sound’s Kittredge Gallery in Tacoma, WA. Read more about the closing reception here and visit nwaae.org for additional information about the Honor: People & Salmon exhibit and Northwest Artists Against Extinction.
Abundant Snake and Columbia River salmon and steelhead have delivered vast cultural, economic, nutritional, and ecological benefits to the people, fish, and wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. The free-flowing, pristine, cold water habitat of the Snake River was once home to millions of adult salmon and steelhead swimming back from the Pacific Ocean annually. However, as a result of the four dams built on the lower Snake River, over 60 years ago, Snake River salmon and steelhead populations, and orcas who depend on salmon, are on the brink of extinction today.
Right now, the Northwest has the opportunity to stop salmon extinction and achieve an historic clean energy transformation, provide economic opportunities for communities, and uphold treaty responsibilities our nation made to Tribes more than 150 years ago.
Washington State must act during the 2023 Legislative Session to seize this critical opportunity and move forward immediately on next steps to analyze and plan for replacing the energy, transportation, and irrigation services provided by these dams. These measures are an important and urgent part of a comprehensive and collaborative process to ensure a clean, reliable and affordable energy and transportation future for all Washingtonians, to protect and restore salmon abundance, and ensure salmon remain available for generations to come.
WE NEED YOUR HELP! Sign this petition asking our State Legislators to act now to effectively begin to replace/transition lower Snake River dam services:
- Transportation Study ($5 Million): Fund the Washington State Department of Transportation to conduct an analysis of highway, road, and freight rail transportation needs and options to accommodate the movement of freight and goods that currently move by barge through the lower Snake River dams, including significant stakeholder outreach and community engagement.
- Energy Study ($5 Million): Fund Washington State Department of Commerce to conduct an analysis and develop a detailed action plan to transition lower Snake River dam’s energy services in a manner that maintains reliability, adequacy, and diversifies and improves the resilience of the electric power system. The analysis of the existing electrical power system will be consistent with the Clean Energy Transformation Act, and can replace fossil fuels currently used in the transportation, industry and buildings sectors.
- Irrigation Analysis ($500,000): Fund the Washington State Department of Ecology, in consultation with other agencies as necessary, to conduct an analysis of continued water use for irrigation during lower Snake River drawdown and thereafter from a restored river.
- Salmon Habitat Campaign priorities: Support significantly increased investments in programs that protect and restore salmon habitat in the freshwaters and marine waters across Washington and to right-size habitat funding to protect and restore abundant salmon for future generations.
By taking these actions in 2023, Washington State can lead efforts to recover endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead; modernize transportation, agriculture, and clean energy infrastructure; address decades-long salmon recovery litigation; enhance economic opportunities for every corner of our state — farmers and fishermen, Tribes, and local communities; and invest in a brighter Northwest future.
On Friday, March 31 – from 10 am to 1 pm PDT - the Biden Administration will hold a “public listening session” via webinar. This is a very important opportunity for you and other people not directly involved in the federal lawsuit and confidential settlement talks now underway focused on Snake River salmon and dams, to speak to top-level Administration officials and federal agency heads on behalf of salmon and steelhead, orcas, justice - and the need for urgent action by the Administration and Congress to protect our lands and waters and special way of life in the Pacific Northwest.
Now is the time to restore a freely-flowing lower Snake River and and its imperiled salmon and steelhead!
Mark your calendar – Friday, March 31 - and SIGN UP TODAY!
You can sign up to attend (virtually) the Biden Administration's Listening Session here. Please act quickly to register to attend – space is limited! (Note: speaking slots for 3/31 are now closed. Additional Listening Sessions may be scheduled - TBA.)
If you were able to register to speak and/or have signed up to attend, please drop us a line here to let us know, and we’ll follow up with you with additional information.
Speakers and non-speakers alike have a very important role to play as part of these Listening Sessions – to show up and be counted - and demonstrate strong public support (and pressure) for the Biden Administration to:
- protect and restore critically endangered salmon and steelhead – and the many benefits they bring to the Pacific Northwest;
- urgently develop a comprehensive solution that restores the river, recovers fish and invests in our communities and critical infrastructure; and
- work with Northwest public officials, Tribes and stakeholders to develop and deliver a plan as quickly as possible to (i) remove the dams and (ii) replace their services.
Questions? If you have questions about this Listening Session – speaking, signing up, attending, and spreading the word to your network – please contact Marc Sullivan - email@example.com.
Here’s some additional background and context on the Biden Administration and the upcoming Listening Session: Since early 2021, the Biden Administration has been actively engaged with Tribes, stakeholders and policymakers to better understand the needs of endangered fish and Northwest communities in order to help develop and advance lawful, science-based solutions that can move everyone forward together.
In October 2021, the Administration reached a landmark agreement with salmon and fishing advocates – the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Oregon, and Earthjustice representing fishing and conservation groups - who are challenging a grossly inadequate Trump-era salmon plan in federal court.
This historic agreement paused two decades of continuous litigation to allow for confidential settlement talks – and an opportunity to finally develop an effective, durable, long-term plan to protect and recover imperiled Snake River fish. This initial agreement was then extended last summer for another 12 months - through August 31, 2023. Given that the mediated discussions over the past 18 months have been confidential, the Administration’s 3/31 Listening Session will provide an opportunity for people like you to speak directly to the Administration on behalf of salmon, orca, climate and communities – and the urgent need to act to remove the dams and replace their services as quickly as possible.
As part of last summer's agreement to extend the litigation pause and continue talks, the Biden Administration made a series of commitments to support the “development of a durable long-term strategy to restore salmon and other native fish populations to healthy and abundant levels, honor Federal commitments to Tribal Nations, deliver affordable and reliable clean power, and meet the many resilience needs of stakeholders across the region.”
Many of these commitments came with specific deadlines. The first, for example, was to finalize by Sept. 30 the scientific analysis “Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead.” This report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded – consistent with scores of previous scientific reports - that the restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake River, via dam breaching, is “essential” for salmonid recovery.
Despite this important follow-through, advocates are still waiting for the Administration to act on some of its other promises to, for example, produce by Dec. 1, 2022:
(1)“a schedule of Administration actions and critical milestones to meet the Administration’s principles and commitments described herein;” and
(2) “…to identify those short-term funding, operational, and other actions that can be implemented in 2023 based on actual and projected funding available from sources across the federal Departments and Agencies.”
Unfortunately, the Administration’s good words have not always been matched by equally good deeds – and the 3/31 Listening Session provides you and others an opportunity to remind top-level Administration officials of the extinction crisis Snake River salmon face today, and the urgent need for bold action to protect and recover salmon and the orcas and other fish and wildlife that depend upon them.
The forward-leaning leadership for salmon and orca recovery, justice for Northwest Tribes and investment in a prosperous and sustainable Northwest by the Biden Administration and top regional elected officials represents a truly historic opportunity. But the forward lean must become urgent movement and action if we’re not to waste this opportunity.
Finally for now – here’s some breaking news from Washington D.C.: On March 21, speaking at a White House Conservation in Action Summit in Washington D.C., President Biden pledged to work with Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, Sen. Patty Murray, and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington to restore Snake and Columbia River salmon runs.
The Summit included the leaders of many Pacific Northwest Tribes. The President announced several high-level conservation initiatives, including his use of the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments in Nevada and Texas and an ocean preserve near Hawaii, before highlighting his commitment to protect and restore the Northwest’s imperiled native fish:
“And I'm also committed to working with the tribal leaders here, as well as Senator Patty Murray, Maria Cantwell and Representative Mike Simpson, to bring healthy and abundant salmon runs back to the [Columbia] River system,” Biden said.
Here are several links to further information on the Listening Session and related developments:
(3) Defenders of a failed and costly status quo wasted no time attacking the President for his comments and leadership: Press Release: Newhouse Slams Biden Announcement on Columbia and Snake Rivers and Press Release: McMorris Rodgers Responds to Biden Tipping His Hand on Dam Removal
Fisheries managers recently released their predictions for adult salmon and steelhead returns to the Columbia and Snake rivers in 2023. While they are anticipating a modest uptick for a number of Columbia Basin-bound populations, the news continues to be grim for the four endangered stocks that call the Snake River Basin home. Biologists are predicting all will decline again in 2023.
As a quick review, here are some basics on the migratory habits of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead. Today, most juvenile fish, or smolts, undertake their journey to the ocean sometime between April and August. Specific timing depends on the species, the river or tributary and its conditions, and surely some other mysterious factors known only to the fish. This variability in behavior is one of salmon and steelhead’s great survival advantages, and a big reason for their persistence and resilience over many (literally millions of) years.
Before the dams were built, smolts’ were carried by the river current to the ocean in just a few days or at most several weeks. Now, because the dams still the spring freshet behind reservoirs – it can take more than a month for the fish to actively swim to the ocean. This is one big part of the problem created by dams for salmon. More than half of the smolts migrating from the Snake River Basin, for example, are killed during their migration before they ever reach the Pacific Ocean – by predators, exhaustion, dam turbines, warm waters, etc.
After spending 2-5 years in the ocean, surviving adult fish return to the river in search of their natal spawning gravels. The return generally starts in Spring and continues into the Fall. Like the smolt migration, the specific timing of returning fish varies with the species, the river and its particular conditions, and of course, the mysterious predilections of the fish themselves.
Worth noting, Snake River fish are exceptional – they are among the longest and highest freshwater migrants on the planet. Snake River sockeye are true mountain climbers – they swim against the current more than 900 miles and climb more than 6,000 feet in elevation to reach their spawning beds high in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho.
OK – now back to the predicted returns for 2023. Keep in mind that we won’t know the actual returns until they occur, over the course of the next six or so months, but these predictions help set up expectations – and are used to inform the management of Tribal, commercial and recreational fishing seasons. The fisheries, of course, focus on hatchery fish and are designed to minimize impacts on the threatened and endangered wild fish.Overall, adult salmon and steelhead returns in the Columbia Basin this year are expected to show a slight increase for Columbia River fish and a slight decrease for Snake River fish. While any increase, no matter how small, should be cause of celebration - or at least relief - any decrease is cause for concern. At the same time, it is important to keep the adult returns of any specific year in context; it is the longer term populations trends that are most important.
Here are a few things to consider re: annual salmon returns – this year and in any given year.
Current wild fish returns are a tiny fraction of historic returns, and most populations in the Columbia Basin are far, far below levels needed for recovery. Historically, returns annually were between 10M and 30M fish! The Columbia Basin was among the most productive salmon/steelhead landscapes on the planet. Today, we’ve lost many populations, and many of those that remain return at 1-3 percent historic levels. Real, lasting and sustainable recovery will require BIG reductions in smolt and adult fish mortality. The federal hydrosystem – its' dams and reservoirs - is the largest single source of human-caused mortality for Columbia and Snake River fish. Free the Snake!
The modest uptick in adult returns of non-Snake Columbia Basin fish is welcome news for 2023, but in no way does it reflect that the extinction crisis has been solved. Any suggestion about “record returns” – unless record low returns – are false and unsupported by any science. These fish will continue to be at grave risk unless and until we make some big changes – and quickly. In contrast, another year of declining Snake River populations raises new red flags and underscores the need for bold, urgent action. These are populations that cannot fall much further without completely winking out. Free the Snake!
This year, the vast majority of adult salmon and steelhead returning to the Columbia Basin – as much as 90% - will be hatchery-origin fish. Hatchery fish are important for helping to sustain Tribal and non-Tribal fishing opportunity today, but these numbers reflect wild populations in crisis. More than a million wild spring chinook historically returned to the Snake River Basin. This year, just 13,200 are expected. Not so long ago, Snake River sockeye returns numbered 30-40K fish. In 2023, no more than few dozen sockeye are expected to return to the Snake Basin. This is truly a population that's on life-support. Free the Snake!
A final note on Columbia/Snake River steelhead. Steelhead trout have a similar life history as salmon but are considerably more mysterious. Like salmon, they move from freshwater to saltwater and back again, but they are significantly more flexible, less structured, and more diverse and dynamic. The behaviors and timings of adult steelhead return and spawning rituals, for example, are much more fluid. They are also capable, though far less today than before the dams, of returning to the ocean after they spawn to repeat the process one or even two more times.
Further, there is a very special population of steelhead (“B-run”) that is unique and only found in the Snake River Basin. These fish spend more time in the ocean before returning, and, as a result, come back into the river much larger than “A-runs”. They have long been revered by anglers for their elusive nature, large size, and fierce fight. This highly unique sub-population returns today only to the Clearwater and Salmon rivers in the Snake River Basin – and they are at deep risk of extinction. Adult returns in recent years have hovered in the neighborhood of just 1,000 fish. They have been especially harmed by (surprise!) dams and reservoirs constructed over the past century that have cut off ancestral spawning, rearing and migratory habitat and/or severely degraded it. Restoring the lower Snake River will provide a very big boost to the survival and recovery prospects for the B-runs - but it must happen quickly. Leaving the dams in place will result in certain extinction.
Here are some additional resources on the plight of salmon and steelhead today, and recent news coverage about anticipated returns to the Columbia-Snake River Basin in 2023. We’ll continue to provide updates and news in the months ahead.
(1) Spokesman-Review: Overall run forecast calls for more fish than last year; numbers on the Snake River are down slightly (Feb. 2023)
(2) Nez Perce Tribe and the New Perce Fisheries: Snake Basin Chinook and Steelhead Quasi-Extinction Threshold Alarm and Call to Action (May 2021)
3) National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration: Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead; National Marine Fisheries Service (Sept. 30, 2022)
“[This film] tells the issues in not only in our territories but in other territories. It tells the story that relates on to our ancestors…It brings back a lot of the stories in general with what we used to have in the river before the dams but also the history, the culture, the knowledge of bringing that forth with our Elders. And in the process, it brings those memories back of the hurt but also brings back the resistance of a lot of things that they had held within themselves for many generations.”
- Frances Charles, Chairwoman, Elwha Klallam Tribe
“This film is a contribution to the movement towards dam removal.”
- Darrell Hillaire, Founder & Director, Children of the Setting Sun Productions
Last month, nearly 2,000 people registered to attend a virtual screening of Our Sacred Obligation, a new film by Children of Setting Sun Productions, featuring a Q&A panel discussion with Indigenous leaders on the movement to restore salmon and free-flowing rivers!
Our Sacred Obligation is a 26-minute film that recounts the history of the Yurok Tribe’s struggle against the colonization of the Klamath River, which has sustained them since time immemorial. A land reclamation project and a series of dams have brought the Klamath River salmon populations to the brink of extinction. But the Yurok are fighting back. Supported by their ancestors and the recent success of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe on the Elwha River, the Yurok are using their sovereign treaty rights to fulfill their sacred obligation to bring down the dams and restore the river.
Watch the recording of the panel discussion and virtual screening of 'Our Sacred Obligation' HERE.
This 2/23 screening was made possible with support of the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Idaho Conservation League, Washington Conservation Action, and Save Our wild Salmon.
To support their work directly, make a contribution here.
This March marks the date 66 years ago when the Wy-am (Celilo Falls) was flooded. Watch Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s (CRITFC) video featuring Elder Bruce Jim, Sr. (Warm Springs) recounting life at Celilo Falls before inundation.
From CRITFC: “At 10 a.m., March 10, 1957, the steel and concrete gates of The Dalles Dam closed, choking back the unimaginable force of the mighty Columbia River. Six hours later and eight miles upstream, Celilo Falls, the age-old Indian salmon fishery, was underwater. But the spirit of Celilo still lives in the traditions and religions, indeed the very souls of Columbia River Indian people.
That day left a lasting scar on the heart of the elders who witnessed it. But they shared their stories with their children and grandchildren to make sure they never forgot. To this day, Umatilla, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce Peoples who were born long after the flooding of Celilo still mourn with their families on March 10.
Many of those elders who witnessed the sacred falls disappear have now since passed, and the words and memories of those that remain become more and more precious. Elder Bruce Jim, Sr. (Warm Springs) shares his memories of his time on the river before the dam. A time when all the children spoke their Native languages and fishers weren’t separated by tribes or bands. This is his story about his life at Celilo.”
Watch the 8-minute video here.
To learn more about the history of Wy-am (Celilo Falls), hear from Tribal Elders, and view beautiful photos of Tribes fishing for salmon at Wy-am before The Dalles Dam, please visit CRITFC’s Celilo Falls page here.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission member Tribes are Yakama, Warm Springs, Umatilla, and Nez Perce Tribes. CRITFC provides coordination and technical assistance to the Tribes in regional, national, and international efforts to ensure that treaty fishing rights issues are resolved in a way that guarantees the continuation and restoration of tribal fisheries into perpetuity. CRITFC’s mission is “to ensure a unified voice in the overall management of the fishery resources, and as managers, to protect reserved treaty rights through the exercise of the inherent sovereign powers of the tribes.” For more information on Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, visit critfc.org. Follow CRITFC on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Photo by Matheny Collection from critfc.org. Celilo Falls circa 1952. Before it was inundated under the waters behind The Dalles Dam, Celilo Falls drew Indians from throughout the Pacific Northwest to fish, trade, and socialize. It was one of the most significant fisheries of the Columbia River system.
Art exhibit at the University of Puget Sound honoring salmon, and those who depend on them, is now open!
Honor: People & Salmon is an exhibit of works by artists who create art to evoke support - and action - for protecting and restoring salmon and orcas, and the many communities that honor and cherish these emblematic species. A project of the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition, Northwest Artists Against Extinction brings artists together to inspire change in perspective and policy that honors past, present, and future generations in the stewardship of lands and waters, and fish and wildlife. The exhibit opened on March 6 and will run through April 15 at the Kittredge Gallery on the University of Puget Sound campus. Learn more about Honor: People & Salmon and see participating artists here.
Mark your calendars! A closing reception will be held on Saturday, April 15 from 5 - 7pm. The closing reception will feature a poetry reading from the soon-to-be-released anthology I Sing The Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State, edited by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest and published by Empty Bowl Press. Priest and other contributors will talk about the collection, which was supported by the Academy of American Poets. The closing reception is free and open to the public.
Finally, the Northwest Artists Against Extinction storefront is offering new items featuring art from Honor: People & Salmon. You can grab a notebook with Wade Huntsman's artwork or sport a tote bag featuring Alyssa Eckert’s Salmon Run artwork for all your errands! Check out the storefront to see all the new items!
Here are some recent stories about the urgency and opportunity today for the Snake River and Northwest salmon recovery:
- Lewiston Tribune: President Biden pledges support for efforts to restore salmon runs on the Snake and Columbia rivers (March 21, 2023)
- Public News Service: In DC, Focus on Fish, NW Energy Grid (March 7, 2023)
- Chicago Sun-Times: Preserving wildlife and a way of life (March 6, 2023)
- The Bend Bulletin: For a better future, the four Lower Snake River Dams must go (Feb. 23, 2023)