We Can Improve Conditions for Salmon and Orcas
by Kurt Miller
People are becoming aware of the potential for region-wide blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills,
as thousands of megawatts of coal generation are being shut down to help fight climate change.
February marks my one-year anniversary at Northwest RiverPartners.
In the past year, I've met amazing people -- members of Northwest Native American tribes, electric utility leaders, and leaders of fish and wildlife conservation groups.
No matter where they stand on hydroelectric dams, their hearts are in the right place; they all care about people, salmon, and the environment.
I'm certain the same can be said for Governor Brown.
On Friday, I read Governor Brown's letter to Washington's Governor Inslee where she offered her support for endangered Southern Resident orcas. In her letter, Governor Brown offered near-term practical solutions, such as increasing salmon hatchery production. She also said that the region needs to collaborate to address long-term concerns.
I appreciate that Governor Brown is looking to bring people together, but her collaboration appears dependent on a predetermined outcome--the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams.
Governor Brown's approach is not unique. Some of the groups I've spoken with genuinely want to find collaborative solutions, but only if dam breaching is accepted as a precondition for discussions.
I don't mean this disrespectfully, but it doesn't feel very collaborative if the outcome has already been decided.
My organization has worked hard to detail why dam breaching isn't a good answer for the Northwest and how it puts vulnerable communities and our clean energy goals at risk.
As an example, people are becoming aware of the potential for region-wide blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills, as thousands of megawatts of coal generation are being shut down to help fight climate change.
Breaching the lower Snake River dams would only add to these risks and represent a step backward in achieving our clean energy goals.
We believe we can improve conditions for salmon and orcas in the Northwest without destroying critical infrastructure.
The many billions of dollars it would take to breach the dams and replace their capabilities would be much better spent on cleaning up Puget Sound. Salmon there have been found with antidepressants, nicotine, herbicides, and even cocaine in their systems. Orcas almost exclusively eat fatty Chinook salmon, and these toxins become concentrated in their fat.
We can also do more in the Columbia River Basin. Avian predation of salmon is a very serious issue, with birds potentially eating up to 50% of the juvenile salmon and steelhead in some areas of the river.
By amending the Marine Mammals Protection Act, we've already seen the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission forge a regional partnership that helped reduce the threat that sea lions present to salmon. The initiative's success is a model for appropriately addressing the avian predation threat.
The point is that there are great opportunities for regional collaboration around salmon, orcas, clean energy, and vulnerable communities. But, for us to reach the best solutions for each of those issues, the table can't be already set with dam breaching. We hope the Governor will consider that.
We Can Improve Conditions for Salmon and Orcas without Destroying Snake River Dams by Kurt Miller, Statesman Journal, 2/21/20
Get Rid of Dams to Save Salmon? Not So Fast by Kurt Miller, Idaho Statesman, 10/1/19
A Tale of Two Salmon Conferences by Kurt Miller, Post Register, 7/26/19
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