On March 21 at a White House “Conservation in Action” Summit, President Joe Biden announced his conservation priorities for the next two years. Alongside fighting climate change, protecting wildlife migration corridors, and modernizing public land management, Biden spoke to one issue specifically: saving Northwest salmon from extinction. He promised to “bring healthy and abundant salmon runs back” to the Columbia and Snake River basins, with help from Tribal leaders, Senators Murray and Cantwell in Washington, and Idaho’s own Congressman Mike Simpson. 

The subject was a key component of the President’s speech and of the day’s summit, hosted by the Department of the Interior. A breakout session on Columbia River salmon and steelhead featured speakers from the Nez Perce Tribe, the Spokane Tribe, and the National Wildlife Federation. Attended by officials from many federal agencies, the speakers focused on the dire straits wild salmon are in and how to use current federal infrastructure funds to replace the services provided by the lower Snake River dams. 

Federal officials had another chance to hear about this issue just days ago, as Northwest residents got their chance to advocate to high-level leaders in the Biden Administration during two public listening sessions. The sessions were convened as part of the ongoing National Wildlife Federation et al. v. National Marine Fisheries Service et al. litigation, in which ICL is a plaintiff. The litigation has been stayed for more than a year as the parties seek a “comprehensive solution” for salmon, steelhead, orcas, Tribes, and communities in the region, in line with commitments made by the Biden Administration last summer. Discussions on how to reach that solution are ongoing, but confidential. These sessions were the first opportunity for non-litigants to speak directly to the federal team overseeing the litigation. 

Allies of salmon, orcas, and Tribes dominated the two sessions. From across the Northwest and multiple backgrounds, everyday people spoke on the importance of recovering these keystone species, the opportunity to make our energy and transportation systems work better through infrastructure investment, and the responsibility to uphold our treaties and other commitments made to indigenous Tribes. 

A group of Sockeye Salmon swimming.

Here’s some excerpts from advocates’ comments:

I will talk about seeing red. Webster defines “seeing red” as being emotionally stirred up with anger.

If you, as a Shoshone tribal member, had reached the banks of Custer County’s Redfish Lake in August of 1887 you would have seen red of a different kind. Red, because the lake would have been overflowing with 30,000 bright red sockeye salmon returning from the sea. Thirty thousand big red fish made quite a show. It had been that way for thousands of years. No wonder that tribe was known as AKaitikka, or “Eaters of Salmon”.

100 years later, I was married on the shores of Redfish Lake in 1987. That was just 12 years after the last of the lower Snake River dams were built but already only a handful of sockeye returned that year. Five years later it was only one, Lonesome Larry in 1992. Whether intentional or not, the extinction of natural salmon was truly a crime against nature.

– Don Kemper, Boise, ID

So many problems we face today seem to have no good solution. But that’s not the case when it comes to Snake River salmon. You have solutions right in front of you. Rail shipping of grain, to replace barging. Solar and wind power have potential that exceeds Snake River hydropower many times over. Investments in modern infrastructure will position Snake River communities – and the whole NW – for new jobs and a strong future. This can be your legacy — something to look back on with pride — that you were part of bringing back salmon from the brink of extinction.

– Julia Reitan, Seattle, WA

I’m a trout and steelhead fly fishing guide, and avid angler, on the wild rivers of Idaho. I moved to where I live now because I could still fish and guide for salmon and steelhead here, and I know many who can say the same, whose livelihood depends on abundant stocks of these fish. In Maine, anglers along Atlantic salmon rivers formerly were able to pursue their favorite fish a short drive from their front doors. Guides could earn a living there. Now, fishermen take their economic contributions to Quebec, New Brunswick, elsewhere, and guides have nowhere to go. The same situation is poised to play out up and down the Salmon and Clearwater, Grande Ronde rivers. Resident anglers will take their money elsewhere to find salmon and steelhead, visiting anglers will no longer visit.  Guides will no longer guide. 

– Mark Martin, McCall, ID

Voices from the Northwest are needed now in Washington DC. The President must understand that bringing healthy salmon runs back to the Snake River will require dam breaching on the lower Snake River. His Administration should be developing a plan to replace what the dams do and breach them before the end of this decade. 

President Biden and his team are listening. Will they hear your story? Take Action today to send an email to the Administration, and look out for more info on another listening session in May.