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Save Our Wild Salmon

sockeyesalmonrunOpinion of Amanda Goodin
Dec 8, 2023

We have long known that we can protect our imperiled native salmon and ensure the economic vitality of the Northwest — but doing so will require committing to a new path forward, one that includes a path to breaching the lower Snake River dams and replacing their services. As the regional dialogue on our path forward continues, it will be critical for regional constituents to have accurate information rather than misleading rhetoric. The media and our elected officials play a critical role in ensuring that happens.

As the Columbian, of Vancouver, Wash., rightly pointed out in a June editorial, there are no easy answers when it comes to how best to protect Columbia River Basin salmon that are now on the brink of extinction, but “discussion is beneficial; rhetoric that insults our intelligence is not.”

Unfortunately, certain elected officials and some stakeholders in the region are seizing on unhelpful rhetoric and misinformation to unfairly characterize a federal mediation process aimed at resolving a three-decade-long litigation effort to save endangered fish and uplift the communities that depend on them. Confidentiality is standard and central to mediation processes and helps opposing parties in litigation to explore solutions and work through differences. In a recent Columbian editorial that was reprinted Tuesday in the Lewiston Tribune, there was a missed opportunity to educate readers about this standard legal process.

The editorial also missed an opportunity to note that outside of the current mediation, broad, multistakeholder efforts have been underway in the region for years, with bipartisan support of our region’s elected leaders. Between Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee alone, hundreds of hours of public meetings — open to farmers, irrigators, public power co-ops, commercial fishers, recreational enthusiasts and more — have been held throughout the region to understand the diverse needs of stakeholders and to examine broad solutions. Supported by ongoing media coverage, robust public discourse continues on how best to protect Snake River salmon while also serving the needs of the region and replacing services currently provided by the four lower Snake River dams. That’s as it should be — and there is still an important role for mediation of legal disputes within that larger public framework.

By way of background and consistent with a court filing on Oct. 31, Earthjustice and the conservation, fishing and renewable energy groups we represent currently expect a package of actions and commitments to restore Snake River salmon to be part of a court filing by Dec. 15, or if there is no agreement, the parties will propose to the court a schedule for restarting litigation at that time.

In that litigation, we are fighting alongside tribes and states as partners and allies who share our same goals — protecting salmon, honoring federal commitments to tribes and taking advantage of a unique opportunity to not only restore salmon but also provide affordable and reliable clean energy and other infrastructure to the region while strengthening our region’s resilience in the face of climate change.

Until the time of the court filing, under Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service rules governing mediation, we will not be able to confirm whether the document posted by certain members of Congress is current or accurate, or otherwise comment on its contents. All parties to this litigation — including plaintiffs, defendants and all intervening parties — are bound by the same confidentiality rules, and Earthjustice and our plaintiffs will continue to follow those rules.

It will not be litigation or mediation alone that will solve the salmon extinction crisis. Public conversations that have been underway for decades must and should continue. Our ultimate goal, in all of our actions, is a resolution that would prevent extinction, rebuild healthy and abundant salmon, and ensure the continued vitality of the Northwest through comprehensive investments that replace the services of the lower Snake River dams. We hope that a comprehensive solution that invests in and uplifts the region will come together with the urgency necessary to avoid the extinction of Snake River salmon. For that to happen, we will all need to pay attention now and move quickly.

Regardless of what is announced by Dec. 15, we will need the continued leadership of elected officials and the media to continue these critical conversations, and to do so accurately and urgently. Salmon extinction is not something anyone wants, even those who oppose dam breaching.

A comprehensive solution that moves everyone forward together, with federal resources supporting it, is both a necessity and opportunity for our region. We should seize it and work together to make it the best it can be.

Goodin is a senior attorney at Earthjustice, which represents 10 fishing, conservation and renewable energy plaintiffs in long-standing litigation to protect Snake River salmon.

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