The Region Needs Your Leadership. Now Is Our Opportunity To Invest In The Northwest.
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By Bill Arthur, Snake/Columbia River Salmon Campaign Chair
Removing the four lower Snake River dams will restore the Snake River along with its iconic creatures – wild salmon, steelhead, lamprey. Indeed, it is the single best opportunity to restore abundant salmon runs. It will benefit sport, commercial and tribal fishing economies and communities, and is critical to saving our endangered Southern Resident Killer orca.
At its core, restoring the once-abundant salmon runs of the Snake River is about keeping faith with the treaties we have signed with Northwest tribes. We must honor our commitments to the tribes and break the cycle of neglect and failure that has gone on for far too long. Recently, eleven Northwest tribal leaders called on members of Congress and President Biden to honor the federal government’s commitment to tribes and save salmon by removing the lower Snake River dams. As the leaders wrote, “Salmon are inseparable from who we are.” They further stated, “Even as our ancestors’ lives and homelands were threatened, they made sure to protect within the treaties our ancestral salmon lifeway. Those treaties were promises made by the United State Government. Those promises must be kept.”
In February, Rep. Simpson submitted a proposal to restore the Snake River and make comprehensive and strategic investment to assure our energy system, farms, and local communities remain strong and vibrant.
In response to this proposal, the Yakama Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin said, “We have reached a tipping point where we must choose between our Treaty-protected salmon and the federal dams. And we choose salmon.” Sharing a similar sentiment, Chairman Wheeler of the Nez Perce Tribe commented, “We view restoring the lower Snake River – a living being to us, and one that is injured – as urgent and overdue. Congressman Simpson, in focusing on the facts and on a solution speaks the truth – that restoring salmon and the lower Snake River can also reunite and strengthen regional communities and economies.”
It’s true that for many, the restoration of the Snake River is a social justice issue. A recent letter from the Washington Black Lives Matter Steering Committee sent to the Washington congressional delegation made a powerful statement of solidarity with the tribes noting that “restoring salmon is a human rights issue.” They further stated, “In the same way we as Black people have heard from elected leaders that they need more time to act on racial justice, Indigenous people have heard ‘we need more time’ to prevent the salmon extinction. In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, ‘Wait has almost always meant “Never.”’”
The Sierra Club believes we must restore the Snake River and its salmon and stand in solidarity with the tribes. Passing on this heritage to future generations is part of our responsibility as well.
Representative Simpson’s proposal provides 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. The proposal is not perfect. It has holes that need filled, changes and improvements to some parts, and modifications to best meet Washington’s needs. But it has the right comprehensive framework. What is missing is leadership from the Washington congressional delegation.
We have the most powerful congressional delegation since the storied days of Scoop Jackson and Maggie (Warren Magnusen). Our salmon and orca need better. Senator Cantwell is Chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and Senator Murray in the Senate leadership and Appropriations. Rep. Kilmer serves on Appropriations with Rep. Simpson. Our delegation has the positions and clout to work with Rep. Simpson and other members to shape the kind of legislation package that is needed. Northwest tribes deserve their best effort and support and, future generations are counting on us to do our jobs – now. Please click here to ask our Washington Senators to step forward and engage in this essential effort to develop a solution that works for salmon, orca, communities and honor our treaties