Let's Get Rid of the Dams
by Joe Paliani
Celilo Falls on the Columbia River is the site where indigenous Native Americans fished for native salmon for 12,000 years. Ninety miles east of Portland, Celilo Falls and tribal homes were inundated by the Dalles Dam on March 10, 1957. The Dalles is one of 19 dams on the mainstream of the Columbia River, preventing the native salmon from returning to their traditional breeding waters, and denying the Wyumpum Indians and, later, denying thousands of other fishermen access to this historic, natural fishing habitat. The Wyumpum Tribe was archaeologically established as one of the most ancient indigenous communities in the western hemisphere.
Before the dams were built, salmon weighing 70 to 100 pounds each were often caught by Native Americans on the Columbia River. Some Chinook salmon in those days were called "June hogs," and were unbelievably fat and strong, compared with today's much smaller native and farm-bred salmon. The tribes would grind the salmon into fine powder and mix the dried salmon with berries, which could be eaten immediately, or stored for up to two years. Fish bones, tails, spines, heads and gills were boiled as soup. The nutritious flesh was cut into fine fillets for immediate eating, and was also dried as salmon jerky for eating later. Salmon was regarded as one of four sacred foods at that time, filling a menu consisting of edible roots, huckleberries and chokecherries.
Since 1855, due to the construction of the 19 dams, during the course of recent history, 14 million native salmon were denied runs, runs which have fallen today to fewer than 100,000. The native fishery has been decimated by imprudent intrusions by the invading hoards of thoughtless dam-builders, and by the faulty fishing practices by the invading European peoples. The indigenous tribes only took what they needed and let all the rest go. Fishery managers have in recent years counted only three returning native sockeyes, and five returning sockeyes to the Snake River system. That is tantamount to extinction of a native species.
With the death of the salmon runs, other species, such as the local orcas, are facing catastrophic declines in population. Orcas require large amounts of king salmon in their diets, eating up to 300 pounds of fish each day. Many other species eat salmon as a staple as well -- sea lions, terns, cormorants and many others all depend on a share of the salmon, as do the many recreational fishermen and commercial fishermen. All should have a share of this delectable food source, which is only possible if they exist in healthy numbers. At one time, it has been said, "you could walk across the Columbia River on the backs of native salmon." Scientists tell us that the warming seas off the coast of the Columbia and the warming of the streams and rivers from not getting sufficient amounts of cold water from the snow and ice of the mountains, all contribute to the danger of losing all of our native salmon in coming years. Cold water is needed by the salmon in order to exist. The dams prevent sufficient cold water for healthy native salmon runs.
Historical photos of early fishermen on the Columbia River where the Megler Bridge is today show salmon that weighed 50, 70 and 100 pounds each in their nets. These salmon are no longer found.
When will we learn to be more circumspect about taking the last of the native salmon species in our rivers. When will we learn to always take just what we need, and to give the rest back to the rivers and sea? With incessant global warming warnings in our ears, removal of the dams -- all of the dams -- has become imperative if our remaining native salmon are to survive, and if all the other creatures that depend on salmon are to survive as well. There are many alternatives to cheap hydroelectric energy sources. The sooner we realize how critically important dam removal is, the sooner we can begin to rebuild the habitats that the few remaining native salmon species depend upon, and the sooner we can rebuild the healthy river systems needed for their survival.
Let's not wait until it is too late. Judges and federal officials have lent their persistent guidance and have extended their wisdom to us by advising against our current "dam policies." Let's get rid of the dams before it's too late.
Don't you wish someone had awakened us in time to warn us against taking the last of those 50-, 70- and 100-pound salmon? We shall never see them again. It's now imperative to remove the dams. It's the right time and the right thing to do. Our children, grandchildren and their children will thank us for making this timely, essential and wise decision.
Tell your congressman, senator and the governor to please get rid of Washington's dams now. California is removing the Klamath River dams as we speak. A wee too late for their native salmon fishery, however, which, sadly, has already been decimated and has been long declared un-fishable. They waited too long.
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