Well over half of the salmon runs of the Columbia and Snake rivers are threatened or endangered. Total salmon numbers are estimated to be only one percent of what they were before a large number of dams were installed. Fish, particularly salmon, have been an abundant food supply in the Columbia River area for about 10,000 years. An estimated 10 to 16 million Pacific salmon swam up the Columbia River each year to spawn, in the mid 1800s. In the following century, the installation of over 400 dams greatly diminished this thriving natural ecosystem. The dam projects were funded by the federal government.
Even today, the federal government’s policy for the Columbia River has been found to be detrimental, even illegal, according to the Endangered Species Act, “.. it is dispiriting when federal agencies – in this case dam agencies – make violating that law a decade-long policy, and doubly dispiriting when the Obama administration goes along,” said the executive director of Save Our Salmon. (Source: Miamiherald.com) Save Our Salmon has an online action you can take to send a letter on behalf of salmon conservation.
The same is true of jobs, even though some politicians say the Endangered Species Act is bad economics, it simply isn’t true. If there aren’t any salmon, there can’t be a fishing industry, and fishing in the region had been an economic powerhouse for thousands of years. “Since 2006, salmon businesses have used the Endangered Species Act to protect and create jobs, winning interim salmon measures from Judge Redden that have boosted fish numbers.” (Source: Miamiherald.com)
While the current administration says it is trying to create jobs, the federal government’s policy in the Columbia River is hurting the fishing industry and jobs there by damaging the salmon populations. It appears we have inherited the consequences of massive public works projects implemented decades ago, funded with federal monies. Ecological awareness was not exactly state-of-the art in 1949 when the hydro-electric development was beginning. Among the the indigenous people it was part of their sense of ethics, namely, Nature is something to be respected and not dominated.
“To some degree, the history of the Columbia River system is the story of the use of brute force technology and the dynamic repercussions river planners had to address,” said history professor, William Lang, who has studied Columbia River development. (Source: columbia.washington.org)
One strategy that has been proven to work, and might gain in popularity is simply getting rid of a number of the dams. “Those assessments also indicated that restoration of natural river conditions where the four lower Snake River dams occur has the highest likelihood of recovering wild salmon and steelhead.” (Source: Freshwater-fishing-news.com)
There is some hope for wild fish and wild rivers, as we see with the few dam removal projects that crop up from time to time. White Salmon river will be free-flowing after decades of disruption by Condit Dam. Demolition of the concrete structures will begin next April or May. First the flushing of 2.7 million cubic yards of sediment that accumulated over 98 years will take place. The enormous influx of sediment is likely to temporarily kill many forms of life on the river. Removing the dam will open fourteen miles of habitat for threatened Chinook salmon, and 33 miles for steelhead.
Image Credit: Save Our Salmon