Breaking development on our collective, ongoing efforts to restore healthy and abundant wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Here’s what happened in a nutshell: On August 31, 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 salmon and steelhead in the Columbia-Snake River Basin to extend the ongoing pause in court action to allow 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 8/31 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."
Here's some additional background - followed by links to the (i) SOS press release and (ii) two regional news stories: For the past 22 months, settlement talks have been underway between and among the various litigants and parties involved in the decades-long court case over the harmful effects on wild salmon and steelhead of the federal system of dams and reservoirs in the Columbia Basin. Steeply declining native fish populations in the basin began being listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the early 1990s. Since that time, five consecutive federal salmon plans required by the ESA have been rejected by the courts as inadequate and illegal. The latest plan - the federal government’s 6th - was finalized in 2020 during the Trump Administration. It was immediately challenged by the Nez Perce Tribe, State of Oregon and Earthjustice representing conservation and fishing NGOs (all SOS coalition members). It is this court challenge to the Trump Administration’s 2020 plan that has been paused to allow time for settlement talks.
As you may recall, back in February 2021 Congressman Simpson (R-ID) proposed his groundbreaking "comprehensive solution" for Columbia Basin salmon and Northwest communities that included removing the lower Snake River dams and replacing their services with alternatives. Soon after the Simpson announcement, other policymakers began to step forward, including Rep. Blumenauer and Gov. Brown in Oregon, and Senator Murray and Gov. Inslee in Washington State.
Then in October 2021 - 22 months ago - the court approved a request by the plaintiffs (Nez Perce Tribe, State of Oregon and conservation/fishing NGOs) and defendants (the Biden Administration) to begin confidential, mediated settlement discussions. The goal: to develop a durable, long-term, comprehensive regional plan to recover endangered wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia-Snake Basin and rebuild the irreplaceable benefits they bring to the Northwest and nation.
The list of participants in these talks has expanded over time to include, for example, intervening parties to the litigation - irrigators, public utility districts, barge operators and others - as well as a number of regional sovereigns - several additional Columbia Basin Tribes and the State of Washington.
In some respects, these talks - the confidential discussions as well as the very public, regional dialogue that has occurred simultaneously - can be seen as an extension or expansion of the debate and conversation that has been under way in various forums for several decades. But it also feels different today.
For perhaps the first time, high level leadership from within the federal government is engaged - as well as several Northwest state and tribal governments, members of Congress and various affected stakeholders. Not all interested parties have come to the table ready to negotiate in good faith and to collaborate on shared solutions. At SOS, we continue to hope they will.
Regardless, 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 advantage of the next 60 days. 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!
Follow these links to see the SOS press release on the stay extension / continued talks, and regional media stories.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Save Our wild Salmon Statement re: 8/31 decision to extend litigation pause
Seattle Times: Dam removal still on table as settlement talks over Lower Snake River operations continue (Lynda Mapes, Sept 1, 2023)
Spokesman-Review: Federal government, salmon advocates agree to continue talks that could lead to breaching the four lower Snake River dams (Orion Donovan Smith, Sept. 1, 2023)
Thank you as ever for your support and advocacy. We’ll keep you updated as we move forward from here.