Last year 200 boats with more than 350 people launched on the lower Snake River in a celebration and call to action in support of removing four dams that threaten wild salmon and prevent local communities from realizing the economic benefits of a free-flowing river. This year, even more paddlers and boaters, river advocates, anglers, and outfitters are expected to hit the water in Clarkston, Washington, on Saturday, September 17 for the 2nd annual event.  The flotilla of kayaks, drift boats, motor boats and canoes will launch from Swallows Park in Clarkston and travel to the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers for an on-the-water rally.  After returning to Swallows, paddlers can join in a celebration at Chief Timothy Park 6 miles downstream, with food, music, speakers and camping. The event hopes to draw attention to a scathing rebuke of the federal government’s failure to protect wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake Rivers issued by a federal judge earlier this year.  Judge Simon ordered the federal agencies to go back to the drawing board and look at all alternatives, including removal of the four lower Snake River dams, noting that dam removal was likely the most ecologically sound and cost-effective option for restoring wild salmon and steelhead.

In recent years, climate change and droughts have caused lethal water temperatures behind the dams killing thousands of wild salmon trying to migrate from the ocean to their home rivers.  Last year 99 percent of Idaho’s sockeye died before they passed Lower Granite dam, the last impediment.  This year, the prediction is 35 percent of the run will be lost.  Removing four dams, many fisheries scientists say, is the best bet for these strong fish to thrive with access to the thousands of miles of pristine habitat in Idaho, northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. The successful dam removals on the Elwha, White Salmon and Sandy Rivers have shown that when dams come down, stunning ecological recovery occurs along with better economic and recreation benefits. Local sponsors of the “Free the Snake” event include Save Our Wild Salmon, Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited, Mountain Gear, Roast House Coffee and many other groups and businesses. More info at www.freethesnake.com or contact Sam Mace at Sam@wildsalmon.org. (Wil Wheaton)