Ask your elected officials to support breaching the four lower Snake River dams today to save the iconic and critically endangered species of the Pacific Northwest; salmon-eating orcas and salmon themselves. The cultural identity of the place we call home is at peak risk.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
The US Army Corps of Engineers can order the Snake River dams to be breached based on the 2002 EIS (Environmental Impact Study) which they spent seven years and $33M developing. The Army Corps of Engineers must begin dam breaching in December 2018 to begin recovery of endangered wild salmon and Southern Resident Orcas of the Pacific Northwest.
- Breaching the dams offers the best opportunity to recover Snake River wild salmon. If asked, refer to the 2002 EIS under which the four Snake River dams are currently operated, Executive Summary, p. 25)
- There is neither enough time nor any need for more studies of Southern Resident Orcas or salmon before breaching begins. We know salmon need a free flowing Snake River and the orcas need food.
This is the last and best opportunity to:
- Stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars each year in futile fish recovery efforts in the Snake River Basin.
- Cool the lower Snake River to its natural free-flowing state.
- Begin recovery for the largest historical source of prey for the Pacific Northwest’s endangered Southern Resident Orcas, listed by NOAA in 2015 as one of the eight species most in danger of going extinct in the near future if action is not taken immediately. Their preferred prey is Chinook salmon, historically coming from the Snake River basin.
- Create the largest watershed restoration in North America, an incredible environmental legacy.
- The real issue for BPA is no longer whether threatened and endangered fish can avoid extinction, but whether BPA can survive and thus meet those “vast public responsibilities”—including wild fish recovery— to which it proudly refers. BPA itself is now on the endangered species list, and like Columbia/Snake threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead and the resident orcas of the Salish Sea, only major changes will ensure BPA’s survival.
Southern Resident Killer Whale points
- The endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales support a $60-$75 million dollars per year whale watch industry in Washington State.
- Approximately 75%- 80% of the Southern Resident orcas’ diet is chinook salmon.
- Increasing chinook salmon for these whales is the most certain way to increase the orcas’ chances of survival.
- The Columbia-Snake River basin once produced more salmon than any other river system in the world. Historically, the Snake River watershed produced about half of all salmon in the basin. Today, only about 1% of the historic number of fish returns to the watershed to spawn.
- According to NOAA Fisheries, “[p]erhaps the single greatest change in food availability for resident killer whales since the late 1800s has been the decline of salmon in the Columbia River basin,” into which the Snake River flows.
- The historical ability of the Snake/Columbia watershed to produce enormous salmon runs gives these rivers the most potential for again producing great chinook runs, which would enable the Southern Resident orcas to survive.
- While the lower Snake River dams are far from the coast, the Snake/Columbia dams are a major cause of the decline of the salmon runs. Nat’l Wildlife Fed’n v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Serv., 839 F. Supp. 2d 1117, 1131 (D. Or. 2011)
- The Southern Residents spend more than half their time in coastal waters. Their visits to the coastal waters off Westport, Washington and the mouth of the Columbia River coincide with high concentrations of spring Chinook salmon.
- Research indicates that the whales are likely to be especially reliant on the Columbia/Snake River watershed’s early spring, nutrient-rich chinook salmon runs. Ayres KL, et al. (2012) Distinguishing the Impacts of Inadequate Prey and Vessel Traffic on an Endangered Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) Population. PLoS One 7: e36842, pp. 7-9, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0036842.
- Scale samples collected in the winter months from Southern Residents foraging off the Washington coast conclusively show that the orcas are feeding on Upper Columbia and Snake River chinook in the winter months. (Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries, unpublished data.)
- Breaching the four lower Snake River dams would open up more than 140 miles and 15 million acres of high quality habitat for salmon, greatly increasing a critical food source for the Southern Resident orcas.
- The Elwha River dam removal project is showing the world how rapidly a free flowing river can restore its watershed, and how rapidly salmon and other wildlife will return to an undammed river.
- Free-flowing rivers, abundant and sustainable salmon, and wildlife watching opportunities are precious to our natural and national history. Please leave a legacy for future generations in the Pacific Northwest.