Floaters Want Free Flowing Snake
by Eric Tegethoff
Nez Perce tribe, environmental activists hold fourth annual Free the Snake Flotilla protest
CLARKSTON, Wash. -- The fourth annual Free the Snake Flotilla begins tomorrow and one focus of the event is the role a free-flowing Snake River could play in aiding Northwest orcas.
Folks in kayaks, canoes and boats are floating down the Snake in Southeast Washington to call on policymakers to remove four lower Snake River dams. They say that would help save endangered populations of salmon and steelhead.
Sam Mace, inland northwest director of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition, says steep declines in salmon on the Snake and other Northwest rivers are starving orcas.
Last month, a grieving orca carried its dead calf for 17 days. Mace says that brought the crisis these whales are facing to the forefront.
"I've worked on this issue for 20 years now and I am seeing the beginning of a tipping point, in terms of people realizing we have to do something,” says Mace. "Whether they care about rivers, salmon or they care about the orcas in the Puget Sound, we're all connected and the salmon connect all those interests. "
Strong opposition to removing the dams remains. Opponents say the four dams still provide hydropower to the Northwest and that barging on the river is important for farmers.
Last year, more than 400 people joined the Free the Snake Flotilla. This year's event will start Friday evening at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston and the float will take place Saturday morning.
Mace says a changing energy landscape is making hydropower from the dams less valuable and that barging is on the decline. She says after decades of arguments over the dams, towns on the river are quietly having conversations about how a free-flowing Snake could help their communities.
"What would a restored salmon and steelhead fishery mean for our towns?” she asks. "Can we come together to the table and find a solution that works for farmers, works for fishermen, works for orcas and that honors our treaties with the tribes?"
The event will feature several speakers from native tribes, including writer and two-time vice presidential nominee of the Green Party, Winona LaDuke. Members of the Nimiipuu tribe, also known as the Nez Perce, will lead the flotilla, floating their first traditional canoe in a century.
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