For Immediate Release: Thursday, December 14, 2023


Mitch Cutter, Salmon & Steelhead Associate, (541) 280-8474

Abby Urbanek, Communications & Marketing Manager, (208) 345-6933 x 214

U.S. Government commits to restore salmon in Northwest and honor obligations to Tribes, sets path to breach four lower Snake River dams

BOISE, ID – Today the White House announced a significant development in long-standing litigation around hydroelectric dam operations and endangered Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead. Federal defendants reached an agreement with plaintiff states, Tribes, and conservation groups to stay the litigation while committing to a broad set of actions that protect salmon now and prepare for breaching of the lower Snake River dams in the future. 

The agreement is based on a visionary document, called the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, created by the Six Sovereigns – composed of the States of Oregon and Washington and the Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Umatilla Tribes. The initiative includes a comprehensive suite of actions that would restore salmon, steelhead, and other native fish throughout the entire Columbia River Basin. The commitments made by the US Government in today’s agreement are the first steps supporting the initiative. 

“The Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative is our new roadmap for restoring abundant wild salmon and steelhead in the Northwest,” said Salmon & Steelhead Associate Mitch Cutter. “The Initiative contains key actions, including breach of the four lower Snake River dams, that are essential not just for salmon recovery, but for unwinding a decades-long trail of broken promises made to Northwest Tribal nations. Today’s agreement marks the first steps down that pathway.” 

The agreement commits the federal government to funding new, Tribally-owned clean energy projects that replace the lower Snake River dams’ hydropower. Federal agencies will study alternative transportation and irrigation infrastructure, develop a method of accounting for replacement LSRD energy, and document the harms done to Tribal nations by construction of the dams and decimation of salmon populations.

On this momentous occasion, Nez Perce Tribal Chairman Shannon Wheeler said “As Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) we are bound to the salmon and the rivers – these are our life sources. We will not allow extinction to be an option for the salmon, nor for us. The United States is bound to salmon and to us by Treaty where we reserved all our fisheries – our Treaty is the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution. The federal dams on the lower Snake and mainstem Columbia rivers have had – and continue to have – devastating impacts on the salmon and our people, burdening our Treaty partnership. So today, as Six Sovereigns joining together with the United States to advance salmon restoration throughout the Basin – including preparation for breach of the four lower Snake River dams – we are also witnessing the restoration of Tribal Treaties to their rightful place under the rule of law. We appreciate President Biden’s commitment to honor Tribal Treaties, and to work in partnership to restore healthy, abundant salmon throughout the Columbia Basin.”

Along with the other plaintiffs represented by Earthjustice, the Idaho Conservation League will use the stay in litigation to ensure the federal government carries out its commitments and implements more of the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative. 

“This partnership between the Six Sovereigns, conservation groups, and the federal government is unprecedented. We are relying on the Biden Administration to ensure that all federal agencies, including the Bonneville Power Administration, are aligned and urgently implementing the commitments made today,” continued Cutter. “We encourage other stakeholders, including the State of Idaho, to support the agreement and join the growing regional consensus around abundant salmon, modern infrastructure, and healthy communities.”


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