FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — JUNE 26, 2023
Rick Williams, Ph.D, fisheries biologist, Boise ID: 208-861-1325
Richard Scully, Ph.D, fisheries biologist (ret.), Lewiston, ID: 208-241-4095
Joel Kawahara, President, Coastal Trollers Association, Quilcene, WA, 206-406-7026
Bob Rees, recreational fishing guide and executive director of Northwest Guides and Anglers
Association, Oregon City, OR: 503-812-9036
Grant Putnam, fishing guide and farmer, Oregon City, OR: 503-784-1217
Stan Kuick, recreational fisherman, Richland, WA: 509-430-7157
Nancy Hirsh, executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, Seattle, WA: 206-409-9217
Tanya Riordan, policy and advocacy director, Save Our wild Salmon Coalition, Spokane, WA: 509-990-9777
Congressional field hearing ignores the urgency for protecting salmon from extinction and opportunity to develop a comprehensive package to invest in Northwest communities and infrastructure
Today at 1:00 p.m. PDT, the Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries holds a Congressional field hearing titled “The Northwest at risk: the environmentalist’s effort to destroy navigation, transportation, and access to reliable power.” According the House Committee on Natural Resources, the hearing will focus on “the multipurpose benefits of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and the Federal Columbia River Power System, in particular the lower Snake River dams.”
This hearing will be held in the Richland High School auditorium, at 930 Long Avenue in Richland, Washington.
With the notable exception of Ms. Jennifer Quan, West Coast Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the list of witnesses represents a set of interests who benefit from a heavily industrialized Columbia and Snake Rivers. The development of these rivers over the last century has come at tremendous cost to wild salmon and steelhead populations and the many benefits they bring to tribal communities and cultures, non-tribal fishing communities and businesses, and fish and wildlife populations like critically endangered Southern Resident orcas. These interests have long resisted change to the federal hydro-system – including lower Snake River dam removal – necessary to protect our region’s emblematic fish from extinction, and to restore them to abundance.
The Columbia-Snake River Basin was once the most productive salmon landscape on the planet, but today are just 1-3% historic levels. Many runs have been lost, and thirteen that remain are at risk of extinction and listed under the Endangered Species Act, including all four Snake River populations.
The science today is clear: restoring the lower Snake River by removing its four federal dams is an essential cornerstone of any credible regional salmon recovery strategy. Up to 70 percent of the out-migrating smolts are killed each year as a result of dam powerhouse encounters, hot stagnant reservoirs, predation, and extended travel time. Other factors today such as harvest play a much less significant role in salmon mortality by comparison.
There are no Tribal representatives among the hearing witnesses. More than 50 Tribes live in the Northwest; they are co-managers with the Northwest states and federal government on salmon recovery and management policies. Salmon has been central to Tribal cultures, diet and economies since time immemorial, and the federal government signed treaties with Tribes more than 150 years guaranteeing salmon in perpetuity. Our nation will fail to uphold its promises made with Tribes if salmon go extinct.
The campaign to restore the river has gathered steam in recent years, especially since Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) unveiled a proposal in 2021 to breach the dams and replace the hydropower, transportation and irrigation benefits they provide by investing billions in communities and new infrastructure.
Over the past several years, the Biden Administration and plaintiffs in the long-running court case over endangered fish and the federal hydro-system have paused the litigation to undertake confidential settlement discussions. The deadline for the current pause is Aug. 31.
In 2021, Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee joined forces to study this issue and last August released their Lower Snake River Dam Benefits Replacement Report and Recommendations. The report found that the dams’ services can be replaced and that this must occur prior to dam removal. Gov. Inslee and our state legislature followed up on this report during this year’s legislative session. $7.5 million was set aside in the 2023-25 Washington State budget to develop transition plans for the energy, transportation, and irrigation services the dams provide.
Below are statements from scientists, fishing business leaders, NGO leaders and local residents:
Liz Hamilton, executive director for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association: “Salmon fishing supports thousands of jobs and is an important part of our Northwest way of life. But fishing businesses are struggling for survival today, and the rock bottom runs and fishing closures have been devastating. We need all of our elected leaders leaning in and working on real solutions rather than misleading, stonewalling and sandbagging.”
Bob Rees, recreational fishing guide and executive director for the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association: “The record low returns of salmon and steelhead in recent years has hit my guiding business - and our family’s economy – very hard. The guides I work with face similar hardship. The sudden fishing closures have forced us cancel trips, disappointing our clients and reducing our income. Our salmon and steelhead are in deep trouble today – and we need committed leadership not divisive rhetoric from our elected officials.”
Richard Scully, Ph.D, IDFG fisheries biologist (ret.): “The science today is settled. The federal dams and their reservoirs are the greatest source of human-caused mortality for salmon and steelhead. Unless the lower Snake River dams are removed, we will lose its salmon and steelhead and the many the benefits they bring to our region forever. Time is running out. Rather than seeking real solutions, the politicians running this hearing offer misinformation and unhelpful rhetoric. Rep. Simpson (R-ID) said it perfectly: everything we do on this river, we can do differently. But the salmon need a river.”
Stan Kuick, recreational fisherman and Richland resident: “As a long-time resident of Richland, I find this hearing embarrassing. Snake River salmon and steelhead are not doing fine. They are in deep trouble today. Fishing opportunities are being closed and fishing businesses are struggling. Our nation is breaking its promises to tribes. None of this seems to matter. The witnesses in this hearing lash out at the Biden Administration and serve up the same misinformation and lies. It’s heartbreaking - these so-called leaders insist on defending failure when the solutions are right in front of us. Yes - we can replace the dams’ services and invest in our communities. No - we cannot replace wild salmon and steelhead once they are gone.”
Joel Kawahara, President, Coastal Trollers Association: "As a salmon fisherman I put food on people’s tables, just like farmers do. Declining salmon returns and fishing closures are hurting our businesses and communities. We don’t need another one-sided hearing. We need leadership committed to real solutions. Restoring Snake River salmon and replacing the dams’ services is a huge opportunity for our state and region to modernize infrastructure, create jobs, expand clean and affordable energy, keep farmers farming – and fishermen fishing.
Tanya Riordan, Policy and Advocacy Director for the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition: “The politicians who are doubling down on false information to defend costly, harmful, and out-dated dams are irresponsible. They are out of touch with the reality of the crisis facing salmon and the devastating cultural and economic impacts to tribal communities and our cherished Northwest fishing opportunities. We ask them instead to focus on bringing people together to develop durable, lawful, science based solutions and join in the effort to secure important infrastructure investments and to support communities throughout the dam removal and transition process.
Rev. AC Churchill, executive director for Earth Ministry / Washington Interfaith Power and Light: “As a faith leader, I know how challenging it can be to bring people together to make difficult decisions. How we care for our Earth while providing for our families is not a simple question and we need policymakers who are invested in bringing folks together to develop shared solutions including, solutions that protect salmon from extinction, uphold our nation’s promises to tribes, and meet other important challenges facing our region’s communities. I’m worried how the hearing in Richland today did little to bridge divides and instead further drove a wedge between communities who often have more in common than we are led to believe.”