The goal of the Columbia Snake River Salmon Campaign is to restore abundant harvestable populations of salmon and steelhead to the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The Columbia/Snake River system was once the most productive salmon river in the world. Breaching of the four lower Snake River dams (LSRDs) is an essential action to restore these salmon runs and to pass this heritage to future generations. Lamprey and other species would also benefit, including the endangered Southern Resident Killer Orca who feed on chinook salmon from the mouth of the Columbia River at key times of the year. Increased numbers of returning fish will benefit sport, commercial and tribal fishing economies and communities.
Numerous studies and reports show the services provided by the dams can be reliably and affordably replaced. The Sierra Club supports making the investments needed to breach the dams and replace their services. This would be the largest salmon and river restoration ever undertaken.
The campaign has made significant progress but there is still much work to do! In 2023 we need to focus on three areas to move Snake River restoration forward.
- We need to work with the Biden Administration to lock down commitments and the path forward under the litigation pause discussions.
- We have to work with our congressional leaders to secure necessary funds for salmon as well as infrastructure investments to replace the services of the dams. The NW delegation (along with Governors of WA and OR) are important for moving these investments and actions forward rapidly.
- Our colleagues in Washington will work with Governor Inslee and the Washington legislature to secure funding for transportation and energy plans to move replacement of dam services forward along with near-term actions that will help salmon.
Please contact Chapter Representative Irene Vlach if you'd like to help!
Learn more about the progress we’ve made and what comes next:
In the summer and early fall of 2022, Senator Murray and Governor Inslee of Washington issued a report with findings and recommendations that put the Northwest on a presumptive path to breaching the four LSRD's. The Biden Administration is committed to a comprehensive plan to restore Columbia Basin salmon and are engaged in discussions with plaintiffs and tribes. Now we have to keep the momentum going and secure actions and investments to replace the services of the dams so they can be breached in a timeframe that will ensure the survival of salmon and orca.
Murray/Inslee Report: In August 2022, Senator Murray and Governor Inslee released their long-awaited report which concluded that the status quo was not working and that the LSRD's were a primary cause for Snake River salmon being at risk of extinction. They also concluded that, "the impacts and benefits of breaching the dams are significant, but they can and must be mitigated or replaced." They further noted that, "Breach of the dams would provide the greatest benefit to the salmon...It should be an option we strive to make viable". Murray and Inslee released a set of recommendations for moving forward with near term actions to help salmon and start to replace the services provided by the dams.
NOAA Report: The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA/Fisheries) published a report updating and summarizing the fish science concluding that, "the centerpiece action is restoring the lower Snake River via dam breaching" as part of a comprehensive Columbia Basin-wide salmon recovery plan. Providing this comprehensive salmon science was one of the commitments made by the Biden Administration as part of the litigation pause (see below).
Biden Administration/Litigation Pause: The Sierra Club, together with nine other NGOs, are plaintiffs represented by Earthjustice and have challenged the inadequate, illegal, and failed salmon "recovery" plans developed by the federal agencies (Bonneville Power Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation). Other plaintiffs are the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon. The courts have ruled five times against the federal agencies, rejecting their status quo salmon plans. We again challenged the Trump administration salmon plan (Biological Opinion) that was issued in September 2020. Plaintiffs, including the Nez Perce Tribe and Oregon, reached agreement with the Biden Administration to pause the litigation and work to develop a comprehensive plan for the Columbia Basin, meet treaty rights for the Tribes and recover Snake River salmon.
As part of the litigation pause, the administration made a set of commitments with the overarching one being: "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. The Administration recognizes that business as usual will not achieve the goals of restoring salmon populations and ecosystem functions...". We expect to see a set of actions and milestones from the Administration that make the path forward more tangible in 2023.
These decisions, reports, and commitments provide a strong foundation. We need to work with the Biden Administration, the Northwest delegation leaders, and the Governors to align these processes, so they reinforce each other and move forward actions to restore the lower Snake River.
Working with, taking leadership from, and coordinating with Northwest Tribes is critical to all these efforts. The leadership of the tribes has been instrumental in securing the steps that have been achieved. We will continue to coordinate our work with the tribes.
Contact Chapter Representative Irene Vlach to join this important campaign.
The Sierra Club has worked for decades to protect and restore the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. We joined in filing the petitions to list these imperiled runs in the early/mid 1990's under the Endangered Species Act. All the salmon and steelhead that return to the Snake River are now listed under the ESA. We are one of the founders of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition that for nearly thirty years has focused on restoring these endangered fish runs. The Sierra Club is one of the plaintiffs represented by Earthjustice to challenge the inadequate, illegal and failed salmon "recovery" plans developed by the federal agencies (Bonneville Power Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation). The courts have ruled five times against the federal agencies, rejecting their status quo salmon plans. We are once again in court challenging the Trump administration salmon plan (Biological Opinion) that was issued in September 2020 and now under the litigation pause engaged in discussions with the Biden Administration to develop a comprehensive plan for salmon in the Snake/Columbia Rivers.
Science shows that removing the four lower Snake River dams is key to restoring 140 miles of free-flowing river and improving access to the high elevation, cold water habitat in the Snake River Basin. Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho provide literally thousands of miles of excellent habitat which is currently underutilized for lack of fish. Removing the lower Snake River dams would be the largest river and salmon restoration ever. We have the ability to replace the power generated by these dams with clean renewable energy and to ensure that transportation of crops and irrigation will continue.
In February 2021, Representative Mike. Simpson (R-Idaho) unveiled a proposal to restore the Snake River and make comprehensive and strategic investments to assure our energy system, farms, and local communities remain strong and vibrant. Rep. Simpson’s proposal provided a solid foundation to restore the salmon, respect treaty rights, and make investments to both address the impacts of removal and ensure the future of the region. In May 2021 the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed a resolution that called for honoring treaties, restoring salmon and removing the four lower Snake River dams.
In September 2022 Senator Murray/Governor Inslee released their report and findings supporting actions to replace the services of the lower Snake River dams in order to make breaching of the dams possible and identifying key steps forward.
Governor Brown made Oregon an active participant with the Biden Administration talks and we are confident Governor Kotek will continue that commitment to salmon and restoration in the lower Snake River.
Join us to seize this moment in time to protect and restore the wild salmon and steelhead of the Snake and Columbia Rivers!