The Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force spent much of 2018 evaluating options to save endangered salmon and Southern Resident Orcas in the Pacific Northwest. At the end of the day, the Task Force failed to recommend breaching the four lower Snake River dams. Instead, it recommended that stakeholders study the issue, even though in 2002, after spending more than $30 million in a comprehensive study that included a thorough stakeholder survey, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that breaching the lower Snake River dams would give the salmon the best chance at recovery. In 2002 the stakeholders were overwhelmingly in favor of breaching. Why weren’t the dams breached then? Politics, pure politics.
The failure of the Orca Task Force to recommend Snake River dam breaching, and, instead, to kick the can down the road of “more study,” brings the Southern Resident orcas closer to extinction, since they need food yesterday.
When it comes to protecting salmon in the Snake River, the federal government, like Washington State, repeatedly and consistently has failed. It has violated the Endangered Species Act for more than 20 years. Even if the federal agencies were to change course and begin complying with the law, which there is no reason to believe they will, the federal agencies currently are engaged in yet another expensive study, the Columbia River Systems Operations review that will not produce any final result regarding the lower Snake River dams until well after 2022, too distant to help the Southern Resident orcas much.
All four Snake River salmon and steelhead runs were listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA by 1997. Southern Resident Orcas officially became endangered in 2005. They are in trouble NOW. Their survival is at risk. In fact, both species have declined since NOAA’s protection, conservation, and recovery efforts on their behalf began.