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 - unless we act! Find out how SOS is helping lead efforts to restore health, connectivity, and resilience to the rivers and streams these fish depend upon in the Columbia-Snake Basin and how you can get involved to help restore healthy, abundant, and harvestable populations and sustain more just and prosperous communities. To learn more and/or get involved, contact Martha Campos.
1. Breaking News: Columbia/Snake River salmon and dams update
2. Stand with Tribes - Join 'All Our Relations' Snake River Campaign events
3. 2023 Hot Water Report: Salmon in hot water this summer
4. Honoring and Celebrating the life of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut (Tokitae)
5. House Natural Resources’ Subcommittee zeros in on Snake River salmon and dams.
6. Celebrating salmon, rivers and orca in Idaho's Stanley Basin!
7. 'Otolith' by Judy Blanco & Lauren Urgenson, a poem from 'I Sing The Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State'
8. Snake River and salmon media roundup
'Rally for Salmon, Free the Snake River' ©Alex Milan Tracy
On August 31, news broke on an important development in our collective efforts to restore healthy and abundant wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Here’s what happened: The U.S. District Court approved a request from the parties involved in the long-running litigation over the deadly effects of the federal system of dams and reservoirs on wild Columbia-Snake River Basin salmon and steelhead to extend the ongoing pause and allow for 60 additional days for settlement talks. As a result, discussions to develop a durable, lawful solution to protect and recover salmon will continue through the end of October.
According to Earthjustice's press release, this brief stay extension is based on U.S. government commitments to "supporting the development of a durable long-term strategy to restore salmon and other native fish populations to healthy and abundant levels, honoring Federal commitments to Tribal Nations, delivering affordable and reliable clean power, and meeting the many resilience needs of stakeholders across the region.”
In our SOS press release, we expressed appreciation for "the focused efforts recently to develop a lawful plan to restore salmon abundance in the Columbia and Snake rivers,” but also emphasized the need for urgent action. “[M]any populations, including all stocks remaining in the Snake River Basin—sockeye, spring/summer and fall chinook, and steelhead—face certain extinction without urgent, meaningful, science-based recovery actions. Salmon and steelhead—and the orcas and other fish and wildlife that depend upon them—are simply running out of time."
We are now in a moment of both great urgency and opportunity—for endangered salmon and orca, and for communities and the Northwest's special way of life. At SOS, we hope that the parties involved in the talks do all they can to take full advantage of the extended talks. We’ll be doing all we can in the public arena to educate and engage the public and our policymakers. And we’ll be reaching out to you for your help!
Thank you as ever for your support and advocacy!
Follow this link to the SOS blog to read more about the stay extension / continued talks, SOS press release and regional media stories.
Please join the All Our Relations Snake River Campaign at an event near you!
All Our Relations is a two-week, Indigenous-led campaign traveling through the Northwest to bring attention to the urgent need to remove the four lower Snake River dams as part of a comprehensive solution to restore salmon abundance and uphold our nation’s promises to Northwest Tribes.
Each stop of the campaign will feature an amazing 8-foot-in-diameter steel sculpture, hand crafted for the journey by Lummi Nation member A. Cyaltsa Finkbonner. Cyaltsa collaborated with Master Carver Jewell James on design and concept to create a piece that celebrates the sacred connections of 'All Our Relations.’ The sculpture’s design incorporates buffalo, bear, eagle and orca at the foundation of the piece. Salmon and Prayer Warrior feathers stand 4 and 5 ½ feet tall around a ceremonial smudge bowl at its center. Wind and water represent connections that support the elements of the sculpture. “This sculpture has a lot to say,” muses Cyaltsa, “we are all prayer warriors full of hope for a better future for all of the dependents of the rivers, land, air and sea.” At each location, Jewell James, Cyaltsa Finkbonner, and Indigenous leaders of the lands on which we will gather will use the sculptural vessel for a smudge ceremony in honor of “All Our Relations.”
“I am so honored for the opportunity to work with Jewell, my respected elder. With his vision of the structure and the freedom to design the art within, this collaboration has made something so unique.” –A. Cyaltsa Finkbonner
Restoring a free-flowing Snake River would honor the promises made to Tribal Nations and their lifeways, open up cold water habitat, fight the effects of climate change, and allow the river to fulfill its role in caring for the salmon, orca and the other wildlife who rely on its health. The benefits of a free-flowing Snake River would also expand to the tens of thousands of people who depend on the river for fishing, hunting, renewal and recreation, and more.
Through art, music, procession and prayer, each stop of this campaign uniquely invites support to honor Tribes, and comprehensive solutions to recover threatened and endangered salmon populations. We hope you’ll join Indigenous leaders, coalition partners and supporters as we stand together and call to restore the lower Snake River and its salmon.
Please support the 2023 All Our Relations Snake River Journey by attending the following events and sharing with your friends and family:
Dates: Friday, September 29 & Saturday, September 30
Time: Evening gathering on Sept. 29 & 8:30 am - 2:00 pm on Sept. 30
Where: Hells Gate State Park
Contact: Julian Matthews, email@example.com
Sockeye salmon with lesions dying from hot water in the Columbia-Snake River Basin ©Conrad Gowell
This summer, SOS and 16 coalition partners completed the 8th annual weekly series of the Hot Water Report, tracking water temperatures in the lower Snake and lower Columbia river reservoirs and reporting how increasingly hot waters impact cold-water-reliant salmon and steelhead, leading to their low returns each year. Drawing on publicly available temperature data, our weekly reports from June to September spotlight the increasingly hot waters and the existential threat they represent for the Northwest’s wild salmon and steelhead.
This year, Snake River salmon and steelhead experienced another summer of hot water temperatures in the lower Snake River. For over 60 days, salmon and steelhead migrated through harmful water temperatures between 68°F - 72°F on the lower Snake River. Salmon and steelhead begin to suffer harmful effects when water temperatures exceed 68°F, including: migration disruption, increased metabolism, increased susceptibility to disease, reduced reproductive potential (by reducing egg viability), suffocation (warm water carries less oxygen), and in the worst case - death.
This summer, due to hot water in the reservoirs of the lower Columbia and lower Snake rivers, roughly 80% of the returning adult Snake River sockeye that entered the mouth of the Columbia River died before spawning. Since the completion of the dams on the lower Snake River, wild Snake River fish returns have plummeted and today remain far below the levels required to delist them from the Endangered Species Act, much less meet their Columbia Basin Partnership recovery goals.
Salmon and steelhead—and endangered Southern Resident orcas and other fish and wildlife that depend on salmon—are running out of time. The status quo to keep the lower Snake River dams violates our nation’s 150-year old Treaty commitments to Northwest Tribes and the Endangered Species Act, and strikes at the heart of Northwest values and way of life. At this moment, we have an urgent opportunity to restore ecosystem health across this historic basin and recover salmon and steelhead by removing the four lower Snake River dams and replacing their services.
Restoring a free-flowing Snake River is essential to provide cold, clean, healthy water for salmon and steelhead, protect and recover these once-highly prolific fish populations, uphold our nation's promises to Tribes, and help feed the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas and other fish and wildlife species.
Read the final 2023 Hot Water Report issue for an in-depth summary of this year’s high water temperatures in the lower Snake and Columbia reservoirs and review the current adult returns for Snake River salmon and steelhead in comparison to their recovery goals. View the past Hot Water Report issues here: Hot Water Reports - Compiled
The Hot Water Report is a joint project of the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition, American Rivers, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Columbia Riverkeeper, Earthjustice, Endangered Species Coalition, Environment Oregon, Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Orca Network, Sierra Club, Snake River Waterkeeper, Wild Orca and Wild Steelhead Coalition.
Hy’oltse, Shirley Bob, of the Lummi Nation, center, says she is going to sing a family song from her great great great grandfather. As Hy’oltse addresses the crowd, she said that she sang to Tokitae when she visited her in captivity. (Daniel Kim / The Seattle Times)
The news of the passing of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut (Tokitae), of L Pod, on Friday, August 18 landed heavily in our hearts. We, the team at Save Our wild Salmon, find ourselves among the many who grieve with the Lummi Nation who consider Tokitae family. The tears we shed remind us that “all our relations” include orca, salmon, eagles, trees—all forms of life on earth.
Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut was among 50 orcas taken from their home in the Salish Sea in teh 1960s and '70s. Of those, Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut was the last surviving in captivity. The late Lummi hereditary chief Bill James charged Tribal Elders and leaders with bringing Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut home as a sacred obligation. In 2007, Nickolaus Lewis, a member of the tribal business council, led a council resolution to bring Tokitae home. Tokitae's Lummi family, with numerous advocates and allies, fought tirelessly for her return to the Salish Sea. And in March of 2023 agreements were made to begin preparations for her return to the waters where her family lives. The power to heal while Tokitae was alive was not realized.
A few days after the loss of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, more than 300 people gathered on San Juan Island (WA) in a ceremony of song and story to pay tribute to the life of Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut. During the service, a totem pole dedicated to Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut and created by the House of Tears carvers at the Lummi Nation was installed permanently at Jackson Beach Park.
House of Tears carvers and their supporters in May 2018 took the pole on a 7,000-mile journey from the Salish Sea to the Seaquarium and back, gathering prayers for her release, and in May 2022 the totem pole traveled on a Spirit of the Waters journey to the Snake River calling for the lower Snake River dam removal and the restoration of the rivers and their salmon, and honoring Tribal treaties.
Tony Hillaire, chair of the Lummi Nation Business Council, said the whale has brought so many people, from all walks of life, together to leave this place better for the next generations, “we are going to see our salmon swimming. We are going to see the orcas swimming.” The Lummi Nation plans to host a welcoming Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut home tribute on a later date.
May Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut’s spirit rest with her family, and in the hearts of all who loved her, at home.
Follow these links to hear from Lummi Nation leaders and learn about Tokitae’s history and legacy.
- Celebrating the life of Tokitae the orca on San Juan Island (Aug. 28)
- Mourners gather to remember the last captive southern resident orca (Aug. 20)
- Orca Tokitae’s necropsy shocks Lummi Nation as it works to bring remains home (Aug. 24)
Free Flowing III ©Britt Freda, Northwest Artists Against Extinction; 2023 - acrylic and graphite on birch panel 24” x 48”
On Sept. 14, the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing in Washington D.C. focused on the Biden administration’s updated regulations for implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Republicans also used this hearing as an opportunity to talk about the lower Snake River dams.
In advance of this hearing, SOS worked with Earthjustice to draft, circulate and deliver this letter signed by 32 NGOs to help inform the hearing’s proceedings and participants. The letter highlights the plight of wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia-Snake Basin, and the urgent need to protect and restore the Northwest’s native fish and the many benefits they bring to the region and nation.
New NEPA regulations were a main target of the hearing, but the lower Snake River attracted a lot of attention as well. While Republicans focused their LSR-related questioning on the ongoing federal mediation and baselessly accused Council on Environmental Quality of over-reach, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) properly returned the conversation to the extinction crisis facing Snake River salmon and voiced his support for the Biden administration’s serious engagement on this issue. Follow this link to hear his comments and questioning about the plight of Snake River salmon.
Below we’ve included several excerpts from the hearing transcript - from Rep. Huffman, ranking subcommittee member Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM), and Earthjustice lawyer Jill Heaps who was invited to testify before the subcommittee as the sole minority witness. As a former Pacific Northwest Senate staff, Rep. Stansbury is familiar with the importance and urgency around salmon recovery efforts in the Northwest.
29:30: Rep. Melanie Stansbury: “In the … 1960s and 70s … our country had come to understand some of the damage that it had inflicted on itself. The Cuyahoga River was on fire, iconic rivers across the West were being dammed and causing catastrophic results for communities that had relied on them since time immemorial, tribal lands were being physically damaged, mines and other projects were being permitted in proximity to vulnerable communities, and our food, water, and air which we thought of course would always be there to sustain us were in jeopardy.”
49:45: Jill Wittkowski Heaps: “The four federally owned and operated dams on the lower Snake River have decimated salmon populations. This has had enormous impacts on the four Columbia Basin Treaty Tribes who reserved their right to fish in treaties with the United States government in exchange for 13.2 million acres of land. It’s time for a comprehensive basin-wide solution that restores the Lower Snake River, honors the treaties and makes stakeholders whole.”
1:09:45: Rep. Jared Huffman: “We’ve had 20 years of litigation over biological opinions on these lower Snake River dams and every single lawsuit has found that we’re not doing enough to meet the standard of avoiding jeopardy, much less getting the salmon in the Columbia River Basin on a path toward recovery. Based on all of this science, it sure looks to me like this is more than a ‘house of cards,’ it looks like seriously considering what these lower Snake River dams are doing to salmon in the Columbia River Basin is inevitable, certainly under the Endangered Species Act and also if you give a damn about salmon, if you give a damn about tribes, if you give a damn about the dwindling orca populations in Puget Sound.”
1:11:02: Heaps: “...I would also like to say that voices are missing here. You know, where is the tribal representation? That perhaps is the most stark point that has not been made yet: is that we have a government obligation to the tribes, that they have treaty rights to these fish, and that is our number one thing that we have done wrong. That should be the priority here, is centering the tribes and fixing these salmon runs so they have their Tribal treaty rights.
1:11:30: Huffman: Salmon in this basin are trending towards extinction, despite all the money that we have been spending on mitigation, correct?
1:11:38: Heaps: “Yes, that is true. The Nez Perce actually in fact said extinction is imminent if we don’t do something.”
1:11:45: Huffman: “So rather than the usual thoughts and prayers that we hear from our colleagues across the aisle, shouldn’t we follow the science and do what we need to do if we care about salmon and tribes and all of the economic benefits? We heard the world would end if these dams came out, but aren’t there a lot of economic considerations when it comes to salmon in the Columbia River basin?”
1:12:07: Heaps: “Yes, absolutely. And breaching the dams would give an opportunity to diversify the power system and actually increase reliability of the power system and open up additional recreational opportunities as well.”
1:43:55: Stansbury: “While I do represent a state in the Southwest, I had the tremendous honor as a former Senate staffer to work for a Senator from the Pacific Northwest and had the opportunity to work on these issues. And what I know to be true is that, indeed, the fisheries of the Pacific Northwest are protected by treaty between the U.S. government and the tribes who signed those treaties with the U.S. government. And the subject of the litigation is not only the Endangered Species Act but the right of those tribes to access and utilize those fisheries in perpetuity. So it is important again that we are accurate about the law, we are accurate about the goals of litigation, and why those things are happening."
TAKE ACTION: Call Rep. Huffman and Rep. Stansbury to thank them for bringing attention to the plight of Pacific Northwest salmon and urge them to work with the Biden administration to develop a comprehensive solution for salmon recovery and tribal justice in the Columbia-Snake River Basin.
- Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA): (202) 225-5161
- Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM): (202) 225-6316
The following are a few talking points to incorporate into your calls to Rep. Huffman and Rep. Stansbury:
- Thank you, Rep. Huffman / Rep. Stansbury, for calling attention to the crisis Columbia-Snake River salmon are facing and the need to honor Tribal treaties during the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee hearing. It’s urgent that Congress and the Biden administration work with Tribal Nations, diverse stakeholders and Northwest residents to find a comprehensive solution that will restore healthy and abundant salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
- Salmon can’t wait – and nor can we. Now is the time to recover endangered Northwest salmon populations, uphold government commitments to Tribal Nations and replace services provided by the four lower Snake River dams with modern technology.
- We don’t have to choose between salmon and affordable clean energy. Diverse stakeholders in the Pacific Northwest are working to save Snake River salmon from extinction, honor Tribal treaties and power the future with salmon-friendly clean energy.
- Thank you for your leadership – please work with and support the Biden administration to develop a comprehensive solution to honor commitments made to Tribal Nations and prevent salmon from disappearing forever from one of our nation's greatest salmon habitats—the Snake and Columbia Rivers.
Idaho Rivers United and the Sawtooth Historical Society co-hosted their annual event, the Sawtooth Salmon Festival, on August 26 in Stanley, Idaho. This free, family-friendly event is all about celebrating Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead, and over 600 people attended this year's festival.
Three bus tours took about 125 people out to see wild Chinook salmon spawning with educational interpretive talks. A group also joined Kurt Tardy, Fisheries Manager for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, for a tour of the Pettit Lake Creek fish weir and a discussion of the Tribes’ sockeye recovery program in the lake.
Vendors and partners set up booths with various salmon-related activities, and the Shoshone Bannock dancers joined us again for an amazing celebration of dance, music, culture, and community. Thank you to everyone who joined to celebrate wild salmon!
Sawtooth Salmon Festival photos by Vahn Vandelay
A Litany of Salmon—Extinct: Yakima River Coho, ca 2005, watercolor on paper, 31" x 50" ©Eileen Klatt, Northwest Artists Against Extinction
'Otolith' by Judy Blanco & Lauren Urgenson
Tiny ear stone
Chronicler of time and space
A tale in rings
Day by day a life etched
Recording movement, waters, dangers, home
Center notes evoke
Rich ember yolk then mayflies, stones, caddis, midges
Signatures of ancient rock and nascent acts of living
Changing seasons leave their mark
Like the space between songs.
Proof of the return or departure alone to river or sea
Thousands of miles of waves and currents in micrometers
Concentric extensions of a great journey
Each salmon gives us their story,
Their warnings, the story of the earth itself
Are we listening?
I Sing the Salmon Home: Poems from Washington State, is edited by Rena Priest and published by Empty Bowl Press. The anthology features more than 150 Washington poets ranging from first graders to Tribal Elders, all inspired by the Northwest's beloved, iconic salmon. You can purchase the anthology here.
Judy Blanco and Lauren Urgenson work on salmon recovery in King County, Washington. This is their first poem.
Here are some recent stories about the urgency and opportunity today for the Snake River and salmon recovery:
- Seattle Times: Celebrating the life of Tokitae the orca on San Juan Island (Aug. 28)
Seattle Times: Dam removal still on table as settlement talks over Lower Snake River operations continue (Sept 1, 2023)
Spokesman-Review: Federal government, salmon advocates agree to continue talks that could lead to breaching the four lower Snake River dams (Sept. 1, 2023)
- Lewiston Tribune: Parties seek extension in dams debate (Sept. 1, 2023)
- USGS: The Elwah River: Landscapes of Recovery, a 10-year retrospective. Check out this interactive multi-media resource to learn about the Elwha River and the ongoing research on the benefits of dam removal on salmon, ecosystems, and to communities.