Living in the Northwest, salmon is close to my home – and heart. That’s because the salmon restoration issue in the Northwest isn’t just about conservation. Like many other environmental issues, it’s also about jobs and the economy.
In fact, salmon fishing brings tens of millions of dollars into the regional economy each year, representing thousands of jobs. But because of salmon declines in the Columbia and Snake Rivers over the past three decades, over 25,000 jobs have been lost.
Just how much salmon decline are we talking about? During the time of the Lewis & Clark expedition up to 16 million salmon returned each year. Nowadays, that number is in the range of fewer than ten thousand fish. Salmon and steelhead are both endangered species but according to scientists, salmon runs would be restored by dam removal.
Dam removal is a contentious issue, and for the last 15 years a national coalition of conservation organizations, commercial and sportsfishing associations, businesses and river groups have been in litigation against the federal government to ensure protection for the endangered fish. Dam removal is part of the protection advocated for by the plaintiffs and regional fisheries biologists.
Last Monday, I went to the Portland Courthouse with Save Our Wild Salmon to listen to the latest in this process.
U.S. District Court Judge James Redden declared that he wants to end this 15 year ordeal, and that a working plan is in sight. But conservationists and scientists are less confident. The science supporting the plan, called a biological option or “biop,” runs counter to the advice of many experts from the Forest Service, Department of Fish and Wildlife and the American Fisheries Society’s top scientists.
“We scientists believed the President when he said he would protect science and strengthen the ESA, but secretary Locke and Dr. Lubchenco have seemingly allowed political pressure to circumvent a decision based on sound science,” said Bill Shake, retired Assistant Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Judge Redden has asked lawyers to supply written briefs next month to help him arrive at a final decision.
Photo credit: pfly