Historically, the Snake River has held some of the largest salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest–allowing our Southern Resident orca to feed abundantly. Today, salmon populations have declined by 90% since the four lower Snake River dams were constructed.1 With wild salmon stocks dwindling, there isn’t enough for our Southern Resident orcas to consistently feed.
We know what we need to do: breach the lower Snake River dams.
The good news is that 2021 was a big year in the effort to save the salmon, and in turn, the orcas. At Environment Washington, we relaunched our door-to-door canvass office and have talked to over 11,000 Washingtonians about the plight of our orcas and have delivered over 5,000 petitions to Senator Murray and Cantwell in support of breaching the lower Snake River dams.
Because people across Washington made their voices heard, and because of the tireless work of countless organizations and advocates, we saw three major developments in the effort to save these incredible species in 2021:
In October, Governor Inslee and Senator Murray released a statement establishing their commitment to developing an actionable plan to save salmon. With the comprehensive solution coming out by the end of July 2022, they will investigate dam replacement services and the budget for a possible breaching strategy.
After a long legal battle, a coalition of fishing and conservation groups, the State of Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe, and federal agencies agreed to stay in a lawsuit that challenges the plan for hydropower operations on the Snake and Columbia Rivers until the summer of 2022. This stay will allow for all parties to work together for a long-term plan to protect endangered and threatened salmon runs.
Senator Cantwell secured nearly $3 billion for salmon recovery and habitat restoration in Washington through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. These major investments will go toward culvert removal and various grant programs that will help the decline of endangered salmon runs on the Snake River.
2021 was a big year for our orcas and salmon, and we have a chance to make 2022 even bigger– and it's already starting off strong.
Governor Inslee introduced his legislative priorities for 2022, which includes an ambitious salmon recovery package that he's calling the Lorraine Loomis Act for Salmon Recovery – a tribute to the longtime champion for salmon, Lorraine Loomis from the Swinomish Tribe and Chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
The Lorraine Loomis Act for Salmon Recovery would:
Give salmon a fighting chance in the face of climate change by requiring riparian–or the areas between land and water– management zones around rivers and streams. Green corridors are vital to healthy habitat and cooling water for our salmon during key points in their life cycles.
Establish a Riparian Habitat Conservation Grant program that would provide 70-90% of project costs to protect, maintain, and restore these riparian management zones.
To ensure long-term salmon recovery, the Act requires annual progress reports coordinated among state agencies, Tribes, and salmon recovery organizations.
State-level salmon recovery, plus the Inslee and Murray stakeholder process spells out the meaningful change in the fight to save our salmon and orcas.
2022 could bring a big change for these populations. Let's not waste it.
 American Rivers, “America’s Most Endangered Rivers: Snake River” 2021
Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash