Last week, a group of Defenders’ staff joined the Salmon Orca Project, several other conservation groups and more than 150 attendees for a rally in Washington DC. The rally was the opening to the 4th Salmon Orca Summit—a full day of advocacy on a decades-long effort to remove four federal dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State.
Our Northwest team is part of a large campaign to remove the dams, which have decimated the salmon populations that Southern Resident orcas depend on for survival. The push for dam removal has the support of more than 60 Tribal governments. The Salmon Orca Project is a collaboration of several Northwest Tribes working to raise awareness about this issue and push policymakers towards action. Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray of Washington are currently developing a comprehensive solution for replacing current services the dams provide, but the decision to remove them must ultimately be made in Congress.
Rally speakers included representatives of the members of the Nez Perce, Yakama and other Northwest Tribes. Larry Wright Jr., representing the National Congress of American Indians, and Paulette Jordan, a former Idaho state legislator and member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council, both emphasized that there is no more time to wait for dam removal. "We have no time to waste," Jordan said. "I've seen two reports released from the White House. None of them have said we're taking action this year or now, not one.” She also called for help from non-Indigenous people to amplify the cause.
Only one Congressional representative came to the rally to show support for the removal of the dams: Idaho Congressman Michael (Mike) K. Simpson. He said to the crowd: “As long as you keep fighting, I’ll be right by your side the entire way.” Last year, Simpson released a framework for reimagining the Northwest energy landscape and recovering critically endangered salmon populations. For the last three years, he and his staff have held over 300 meetings with stakeholders, Tribes, elected representatives and other interests trying to understand and break down this issue. Although his concept did not move forward, Simpson’s willingness to reach across the aisle and take bold steps towards dam removal is much appreciated among many advocates and Tribal members.
The Salmon Orca Project’s day of advocacy came on the heels of a press release from the White House Council on Environmental Quality announcing two new reports: a draft report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that cites dam breaching as “essential” for restoring Snake River salmon stocks, and an assessment of options for replacing the hydropower energy the dams currently provide by E3 consulting. While these are positive signals from the Biden Administration, the specific steps towards dam removal are not clearly laid out, and action is needed now.
The fight to save salmon and orcas has never been more urgent. Defenders was proud to show our support and stand with the Tribes at last week’s rally, and we hope that more meaningful action will be taken as soon as possible to remove the dams. Until then, we will use our voice, and encourage you to use yours. Securing a salmon-abundant future for the Pacific Northwest’s orcas, people and ecosystems will require vocal support for removal of the lower Snake dams from allies across the nation.