Volume 13, Number 1, 1999
Board of Directors
Lew Persons Executive Director
John Osborn Editor
By John Osborn, M.D.
[Ed. note: Quotes from the journals of Lewis & Clark are retained in their original form.]
Columbia River salmon fed the starving Lewis & Clark expedition. During the Depression, Columbia River salmon fed a hungry nation. The United States has never fully acknowledged the profound importance of Columbia River salmon to the history of our nation. America should memorialize the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial by saving these fish from extinction.
On August 12, 1805, the Lewis & Clark expedition stood on a continental divide between two great rivers: Missouri and Columbia. Captain Lewis wrote, "We proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow." Lewis descended to "a handsome bold running Creek of cold Clear water. here I first tasted the water of the great Columbia River."
Lewis & Clark stood on the eastern rim of a river ecosystem an area the size of France containing the richest salmon runs on earth. Each year 10 - 16 million adult salmon and steelhead returned to the Columbia. After spawning the adult salmon died by the millions - in death their rotting flesh giving life to a river ecosystem's forests and deserts. Salmon eggs hatched by the hundreds of millions. Spring floods carried young salmon to the sea to renew this great cycle of life. The Columbia was a river of salmon.
the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial
than the survival of
Columbia River salmon.
On September 21 word came to Lewis that Capt. Clark had made friendly contact with the Nez Perce Indians who provided enough fish and roots "to satisfy completely all our appetits." Clark wrote, "I found Capt Lewis & the party Encamped, much fatigues, & hungery, much rejoiced to find something to eate of which They appeared to partake plentifully." Warnings of overeating were ignored and most of the explorers developed severe vomiting and diarrhea. But they all lived. They eventually canoed down the Snake River to the Columbia and on to the Pacific Ocean.
The success of Lewis & Clark enabled a young United States to claim most of the Columbia River ecosystem. In the 200 years since, the federal government has made decisions profoundly harming the Indians, the river, and the salmon. The river has been dammed, and plugged into the West's electric power grid. Hundreds of dams have changed this once-mighty river into a series of slackwater pools. The dams have proved deadly for the salmon.
Four dams on the Snake River are killing the salmon that saved Lewis & Clark. Saving salmon will require at least partially removing these four dams. To avoid injuring farmers and the towns named for the explorers - Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington - dam removal will require a change in federal transportation subsidies away from barge to rail and truck.
Two hundred years after Lewis & Clark walked into the Columbia River ecosystem, a huge biological catastrophe is unfolding. The greatest runs of salmon on earth are going extinct. The federal government responsible for these dams also has the power to remedy the problem. Time is running out. No greater issue will mark the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial than the survival of Columbia River salmon. America will decide whether to dishonor the Bicentennial by driving the salmon runs that fed Lewis and Clark into extinction, or honor Lewis & Clark by saving these salmon.
THE FAR SIDE by Gary Larson
A friend of mine recently remarked that he didn't like to mix politics with fishing. Talking politics or other controversial subjects while fishing with his buddies was taboo - fishing was a holy pastime, in another realm from the mundane world of republicans vs. democrats, term limits vs. career politicians - or Heaven forbid - contentious environmental debates.
But today fishermen can't avoid politics. Indeed, the future of salmon and steelhead depends on anglers jumping into the ring and fighting for the protection and recovery of our dwindling salmon and steelhead runs in the Snake River and its tributaries. Fishermen across the region have joined with conservationists, Native American tribes, commercial fishermen and others in calling for the partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams to restore salmon and steelhead. Trout Unlimited, Izaak Walton League and many local and regional angling groups have joined the campaign.
The Clinton Administration is expected to adopt a plan to recover and restore wild salmon and steelhead in the Snake River system by early 2000.
The Army Corps of Engineers is developing a series of options on how best to restore runs. One of the options being considered is partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington State. Under this scenario, the earthen portions of the dams would be removed, allowing the river to flow freely around the remaining concrete structure.
In the Columbia and Snake Rivers the single largest salmon killer is the series of federal dams that have turned a wild river into a series of slow-moving reservoirs. Snake River salmon and steelhead face eight dams on the journey to the ocean and the return trip to spawning grounds. Eighty to ninety-five percent of all salmon are killed by these dams. As each year goes by, fewer salmon are making it back home. In 1999 we are witnessing the lowest return of Snake River Chinook salmon in history.
The other options are continuing the status quo (barging fish around the dams) or more of the status quo (barging more fish and flushing more water through the dams).
According to fisheries experts, partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams is the only option that holds out real hope for restoring wild salmon. According to a federally appointed group of independent scientists called PATH, bypassing the lower Snake dams offers an 80-99% chance of recovery. Continued barging and other alternatives offers less than a 50% chance of recovery.
Can we afford to mothball these dams? Yes. The four lower Snake dams provide no flood control and less than 5% of the Northwest's power, energy that is replaceable from other sources. Only 13 farms irrigate from the lower Snake, and can irrigate from a natural river with pump modifications.
The four lower dams were built to provide barge transportation from Lewiston, Idaho, creating a seaport 400 miles inland. Bypassing the dams will mean barge traffic will terminate at Tri-Cities, 135 miles downstream from Lewiston.
Will dam removal cripple our economy? No. Up until 1975, when Lower Granite dam came on line, grain and other products traveled by rail. Today, 60% of the region's grain travels by rail and truck. With some investments, goods can be shipped by rail and truck at competitive rates. Recently, the first "grain train" pulling 75 cars of wheat traveled from the Lewiston to Portland, showing that rail does work.
Will partial dam removal bring economic benefits to the region? Yes. The sportfishing industry has been hit hard by the loss of salmon and steelhead in the Northwest. From 1985 to 1991, angler numbers dropped by 32% and fishing days were down by 60%. Retail sales to salmon and steelhead anglers declined by 45%. With the return of a natural river on the lower Snake, the Army Corps of Engineers predicts the annual economic benefits from recreation - sportfishing, canoeing and other activities - will double.
Increased sportfishing on the lower Columbia as well as restored
commercial and tribal fisheries will bring additional dollars into
Salmon recovery makes good economic sense. But there are more important reasons to save salmon and steelhead. Salmon are the keystone species of the Northwest that tie the forests to the sea and sustain plants, animals, ecosystems - and people too - with their gift of food and nutrients. Native American societies, early pioneers - not to mention Lewis and Clark - all depended on salmon for survival.
Now salmon depend on us for survival and it's time to return the favor. If we want our children to experience the thrill of landing a steelhead on the Grand Ronde River or a chinook off the bank of the Snake, we are going to have to spend less time fishing and more time talking to our friends, neighbors, families, community leaders, federal agencies, and politicians and telling them why restoring salmon and steelhead is important.
The Army Corps of Engineers will release its analysis and recovery options this fall to the public and will hold hearings across the region. Every single person who cares about salmon and steelhead needs to turn out to these hearings and tell the Corps - and the Clinton Administration - to bypass the four lower Snake River dams and restore our salmon.
And there is plenty to do in the meantime. Write letters to your Senators and Representatives. Write letters to the editor. For more information on salmon recovery, dam removal and volunteer opportunities please contact one of the following organizations. Get involved today so that you can fish tomorrow!
Salmon & Steelhead Project Coordinator
Washington & Idaho Wildlife Federations
"June hog" salmon, caught at Kettle
CHANNEL OF DEATH. Lower
Granite Dam, ca. 1974. The four dams on the lower Snake River have
transformed a river of life into a channel of death for salmon. These
four dams are driving salmon into extinction.
Don Sampson Chris Zimmer Scott Bosse Mitch Santochena Glen Spain LeeAnne Tryon Beth Chasnoff Jeff Curtis Jim Baker Pat Ford Sam Mace Reed Burkholder
Columbia River InterTribal Fish Commission
729 NE Oregon Str. Suite 200
Portland, OR 97232
503-238-0667, Fax: 235-4228
Columbia-Snake Rivers Campaign
975 John St. Suite 204
Seattle, WA 98109
Idaho Rivers United
P.O. Box 633
Boise, ID 83701
Idaho Salmon and Steelhead Unlimited
Boise, ID 83701
Institute for Fisheries Resources
Eugene, OR 97440-3370
Northwest Energy Coalition
219 1st Avenue S, Suite 100
Seattle, WA 98104
Taxpayers for Common Sense
651 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003
202-546-8500 ext. 128
213 SW Ash Suite 211
Portland, OR 97204
Sierra Club Regional Office
2703 Klemgard St
Pullman, WA 99163
SOS (Save Our Wild Salmon)
Washington Wildlife Federation Idaho Wildlife Federation
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83816
RIVER OF LIFE. This shows
the dam without the earthen embankment in place, with just the
concrete portion completed (navigation lock and powerhouse). Public
interest, taxpayer, and fish advocate groups are working to remove
the earthen embankments, restore the river, and save the salmon from
extinction. The salmon need you. Please