Journal of The Lands Council

Volume 13, Number 1, 1999

Working for Sustainable Forests and Diversified Economies in the Pacific Northwest

Cartooning the Salmon Crisis

Lewis & Clark Bicentennial, Part 10

Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Transitions Series

Part 1. Lewis & Clark 1804 - 2004
Part 2. "Of Grants & Greed", 1864 Northern Pacific land grant
Part 3. Polluted Waters, 1872 Mining Law Legacy
Part 4. A new state Columbia! 1889 - 1890 Congress drew the state lines wrong
Part 5. Clearcuts above Heavy Metals, 1891 National Forests
Part 6. "Valley of Death", 1929 - 1930
Part 7. Big Business, Congress, and the Public's Lands
Part 8. Poisoning Children, 1973
Part 9. Killer Dams

The Lands Council is a non-profit organization dedicated to the transition of the greater Columbia River ecosystem from resource exploitation to long-term community and biological sustainability.

Board of Directors

Rob Benedetti
Gary Blevins
Bart Haggin
Jeff Hedge
Nancy Lynne
Harvey Morrison
Paul Quinnett
Cynthia Reichelt
Dick Rivers
Terry Sawyer
Liz Sedler


Lew Persons Executive Director
Debbie Boswell Associate Director
Michele Nanni Get the Lead Out! Campaign Director
Mike Petersen Forest Watch Coordinator
Jeff Juel F.W. Field Representative
Grace Millay Ott Development Director
Lisa Ramirez Canvass/ECL Director

Transitions Team

John Osborn Editor
Derrick Jensen Associate Editor
Easy Layout and Design


John Osborn

The Lands Council, S. 517 Division, Spokane, WA 99202-1365 · Phone: 509.838.4912 · Fax: 509.838.5155
Email: · Internet:

All contributions are tax deductible

CREDITS: For material from The Spokesman-Review: Permission to reprint is granted in the interest of public debate and does not constitute endorsement of any opinions of The Lands Council or any other organization.

Saving the Salmon that saved Lewis & Clark

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.

No greater issue will mark
the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial
than the survival of
Columbia River salmon.

Lewis and Clark journeyed north and west, entering the Bitterroot Mountains. The trail "being a narrow rockey path generally on the side of steep precipice, from which in many places if ether man or horse were precipitated they would inevitably be dashed in pieces." On September 16 it snowed six to eight inches. Food was scarce: this "compelled us to kill Something. a coalt being the most useless part of our Stock he fell a Prey to our appetites." Days later Capt. Lewis recorded, "I find myself growing weak for the want of food and most of the men complain of a similar deficiency and have fallen off very much." Starving and exhausted, America's "Corps of Discovery" faced disaster.

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

THE FAR SIDE © 1994 FARWORKS,INC. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

River of life - before the dams.

Colville Confederated Tribes

Salmon leaping

Kettle Falls, Columbia River.

Used with permission of the Spokesman-Review.

The Lands Council Photo Archive

Used with permission of the Spokesman-Review.

Reprinted with permission, Seattle Post Intellinencer

The Lands Council Photo Archive

Reprinted with permission, Seattle Post Intellinencer

Used with permission of the Spokesman-Review.

Used with permission of the Spokesman-Review.

Salmon: A Call to Action

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.

River of life - before the dams. Salmon leaping Kettle Falls, Columbia River.

Ellis Morigeau, Teakle Collection, NW Room, Spokane Public Library

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 the region.

Edward Curtis, Eastern Washington Historical Society

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!

Sam Mace
Salmon & Steelhead Project Coordinator
Washington & Idaho Wildlife Federations

"June hog" salmon, caught at Kettle Falls.

The Lands Council photo archive

Used with permission of the Spokesman-Review.

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.

Bonneville Power Administration photo

Contact the following for more information:

Don Sampson
Columbia River InterTribal Fish Commission
729 NE Oregon Str. Suite 200
Portland, OR 97232
503-238-0667, Fax: 235-4228

Chris Zimmer
Columbia-Snake Rivers Campaign
975 John St. Suite 204
Seattle, WA 98109

Scott Bosse
Idaho Rivers United
P.O. Box 633
Boise, ID 83701

Mitch Santochena
Idaho Salmon and Steelhead Unlimited
P.O. 2294
Boise, ID 83701

Glen Spain
Institute for Fisheries Resources
P.O. 11170
Eugene, OR 97440-3370

LeeAnne Tryon
Northwest Energy Coalition
219 1st Avenue S, Suite 100
Seattle, WA 98104

Beth Chasnoff
Taxpayers for Common Sense
651 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003
202-546-8500 ext. 128

Jeff Curtis
Trout Unlimited
213 SW Ash Suite 211
Portland, OR 97204

Jim Baker
Sierra Club Regional Office
2703 Klemgard St
Pullman, WA 99163

Pat Ford
SOS (Save Our Wild Salmon)

Sam Mace
Washington Wildlife Federation Idaho Wildlife Federation
P.O. 2868
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83816

Reed Burkholder
(salmon advocate)

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 help.

Army Corps of Engineers Photo

Saving the Salmon . . .

Reprinted with permission, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

... that saved Lewis & Clark