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Statement: Compromise sought to protect threatened Pacific Northwest marine life

Stay of lawsuit, federal action good first steps to help salmon, orcas
For Immediate Release

SEATTLE -- A long-running battle over the fate of endangered and threatened salmon in the Pacific Northwest could reach a resolution soon, after two major developments on Thursday. And that could have major repercussions for the region’s endangered orca population.

First, Earthjustice, the legal team behind National Wildlife Federation v. National Marine Fisheries Service, submitted a request for a stay in that lawsuit, which challenges the federal plan for hydropower operations on the Snake and Columbia Rivers until the summer of 2022. A coalition of fishing and conservation groups, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe are the plaintiffs against several government agencies.

If the District Court for the District of Oregon approves the stay, the parties involved have committed to working together to develop and implement a comprehensive long-term plan to protect those rivers’ salmon runs, which allow the fish to reproduce enough to sustain both their species and the orca that feed on them.

In the interim, several federal agencies agreed Thursday to a compromise on dam operations next year, which will include additional dam "spills" to allow juvenile salmon to pass through more quickly during migration. 

Mandy Apa, Conservation Associate with Environment Washington released the following statement: 

"Pacific Northwest salmon are not only a key part of our cultural identity, but also a vital part of keeping Washington’s ecosystems healthy. That includes their role as a primary food source for the Southern Resident orca that regularly traverse our coastal waterways. Chinook salmon are 80% of their diet.

Right now, four dams are blocking 40% of historic salmon spawning grounds on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. These unnatural conditions have created a crisis that could bring both of these species to the brink of extinction.

Breaching the four lower Snake River dams is the most effective solution we can choose to save salmon and orca from this crisis. It is exciting to see progress in the discussions around creating a comprehensive long-term solution to help save the salmon that, in turn, will save the orca. We applaud the broad coalition of plaintiffs that has helped to get us to this point."

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Environment Washington is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.