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SOS Blog

Save Our Wild Salmon

From the desk of Marc Sullivan, Western Washington Coordinator 

September 16, 2022 This post follows, and complements executive director Joseph Bogaard’s Sept. 1 blog on the final report and recommendations from Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee: Sen. Murray & Gov. Inslee's historic decision: replace the services, remove the dams, restore salmon)

Sen. Murray’s and Gov. Inslee’s salmon recovery recommendations were released on August 26, accompanied by a final report on replacing the services of the lower Snake River dams. Their fundamental conclusion: to avoid salmon extinction, we must restore the lower Snake River and breach the four federal dams there and, in order to do that, we can and must replace the services the dams provide as soon as possible. Their recommendations followed by three weeks of a landmark agreement between the Biden Administration and salmon and fishing advocates who are challenging a grossly inadequate Trump-era salmon recovery plan in federal court.

These are two landmark steps forward to begin the pathway to remove the lower Snake River dams, invest in transportation, agriculture, and clean energy infrastructure our state desperately needs, end decades long litigation, and ensure Tribal Justice. This post explores the Biden Administration’s recent commitments that are the basis for the agreement to extend the pause in litigation - and how these commitments intersect with the work and initiative of Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee.

On August 4, the Biden Administration and plaintiffs challenging the Trump salmon plan, including the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Oregon, and fishing and conservation groups represented by Earthjustice, jointly asked the U.S. District Court in Oregon to extend an existing pause in the litigation for an additional thirteen months - through August 31, 2023. The Court swiftly granted the motion. 

As part of the agreement, the Administration made a series of commitments toward the following stated purpose:

“The Biden Administration is committed to supporting 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.”

A number of these detailed commitments under this overarching statement of purpose come with timelines and/or deadlines. The first - and critically important - of these is a promise to produce, by September 30, a final version of a July draft study on the science of “Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead”. That draft, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), concluded that, for endangered Snake River stocks, restoration of a free-flowing lower Snake River, via dam breaching, is “essential” to salmonid recovery. Plaintiffs, and other salmon and orca advocates, will be watching closely for any hint of retreat from that unequivocal scientific finding.

Then, the Administration, by December 1, 2022, promises to produce “a schedule of Administration actions and critical milestones to meet the Administration’s principles and commitments described herein and which the Administration intends to pursue.” While the Murray/Inslee recommendations did not include a schedule of “actions and critical milestones,” these are more appropriately identified by the Biden Administration and the relevant federal agencies. We will be encouraging the senator and the governor (and other policymakers) to work closely with the Administration to make sure Congress provides any funding or authorization that is necessary to implement the actions and timelines to replace the services of the Snake River dams so they can be breached and the river restored as quickly as possible.

December 1, 2022 is a doubly significant date, as the Biden Administration has also promised that, “By December 1, 2022, the Administration agrees 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.”

Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee also recognize the opportunity to use existing appropriations to move quickly on developing replacements for the services the lower Snake dams now provide, with their call to, “Leverage the historic investments made in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act to support energy replacement, infrastructure enhancement, and salmon recovery and habitat restoration”.

The Northwest states, especially Washington, and the Biden Administration will need to effectively, and urgently, coordinate their work on this front, to start translating goals into actions - on the ground and in the river.

More broadly, the motion from the parties involved in the litigation to the Court noted that, “The United States also secured the services of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS; to facilitate meaningful engagement on comprehensive solutions by the United States, Tribes, States, and Stakeholders.” This promised engagement, involving plaintiffs, defendants and other stakeholders, broadens what were previously litigation “settlement” talks to include parties who are not part of the litigation, but will be key to long-term solutions. This is good news if, and only if, all participants engage in good-faith, solution-oriented conversations. Any attempt to use this process as a delaying tactic, or to re-argue settled questions, must be quashed by both FMCS and the Biden Administration or the plaintiffs will be forced to return to court to fight for the health of the river, its endangered fish and the irreplaceable benefits they bring to the Northwest and nation.

The forward-leaning leadership for salmon and orca recovery, justice for Northwest Tribes and investment in a prosperous and sustainable regional future by the Biden Administration and top regional elected officials is an historic opportunity. But a forward lean must become urgent movement and action if we’re not to waste the current opportunity.

For the full text of the Biden Administration commitments, go to: Save Our wild Salmon - Factsheets, Studies, Reports and Letters

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