Editor’s note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.
A June 15 guest editorial on National Geographic’s "Voices" blog describes an ancient, thrilling connection between Idaho and Puget Sound that is threatened by extinction on both its ends.
Ken Balcomb is a pioneer among orca scientists. He has tracked the southern resident killer whales of Puget Sound for 40 years, as the population has both become cherished throughout the sound and dropped toward extinction. Today fewer than 30 breeding females exist in a total population of about 80 animals.
Ken’s editorial describes his reluctant, science-driven journey to active public advocacy for removing the lower Snake River dams. Puget Sound orcas specialize in feeding on chinook salmon, which are in steady decline in the sound, where the orcas spend half their year, and in the near-shore ocean from British Columbia to northern California, where they spend the other half. The resulting under-nourished, even starving population urgently needs more wild chinook. Removing the lower Snake dams will produce more, from Idaho’s Salmon and Clearwater river nurseries, than any other single action across the orca’s vast range. Radio and visual tracking has shown these orcas congregating near the mouth of the Columbia to hunt during their ocean months.
In January, Balcomb and eight fellow orca scientists wrote Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asking her to support removing the lower Snake dams to restore a major part of the orcas’ food supply before it is too late. Their letter is triggering rising citizen and conservation group support across Puget Sound for dam removal. Given the linchpin role Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee have in the future of these eastern Washington dams, this could be the most important development on dam removal in several years.
Balcomb and his colleagues have revealed a deep ecological connection between the heart of Idaho and Puget Sound: two iconic land-and-waterscapes stitched together by orcas and salmon. Both animals are now endangered, by our actions. We cannot let them and the fabric they help sustain go to pieces without a hell of a fight.