Feds Fast Track Salmon Plan Public Comment Period Despite Pandemic 

By Sam Mace, Save Our Wild Salmon’s Inland NW Director

It’s not news that our Snake River salmon and steelhead runs are in steep decline, with the last few years being particularly devastating.  Fish biologists, anglers and conservation groups have long advocated for removal of the four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington as a necessary action to restore healthy, harvestable runs.   

A month ago, under court order, the Trump Administration released its draft plan for restoring Columbia-Snake salmon. Called a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), it includes six different alternatives, including a dam removal option (which the judge requested). While admitting that dam removal was the best action for salmon, the agencies punted in favor of business-as-usual.   

While required by law to provide 90 days for public comment, the agencies released the 4000-plus page DEIS with a mere 45-day comment window. Then they refused to extend it past April 13 despite the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Free the Snake Flotilla // Photo by Moonhouse, courtesy of Save Our Wild Salmon

Even with the administration’s lackluster approach, there is hope! Benefits from these dams have been in steep decline for 20 years while their impacts to salmon and steelhead grow. Communities and businesses dependent on fisheries for jobs, tourism, and recreation are becoming strong voices for dam removal, while orca scientists urge it as a necessary action to get starving Puget Sound orcas more food. Responding to constituents, decision-makers are beginning to support discussions around dam removal and what it would mean for salmon and the Northwest.  

Washington Governor Inslee funded a stakeholder process to ask the “what if” question in 2019. Oregon Governor Brown supported that effort in a letter to Inslee, noting that the science supports a free-flowing river. And last year Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson publicly called for putting dam removal on the table and looking at transportation, energy, and economic investments that can benefit our region far more than four aging concrete plugs in the river. 

The politicians are listening. The salmon, steelhead, and orca need our voices. Quarantined at home? Go to Wildsalmon.org and click on the resource page for information and to submit a comment. You can also review all the DEIS documents (and send comments) at Nwd.usace.army.mil/CRSO. 

And then take the most important action: Send your comments to your elected officials. We know the Trump Administration will not solve our salmon crisis. We need to call on our Northwest governors and members of Congress to lead.

For more information contact Save Our Wild Salmon’s Inland NW Director at sam@wildsalmon.org

Photo by Matt Stoecker, courtesy of Save Our Wild Salmon