A bold plan for salmon, clean energy and jobs in the Pacific Northwest

Congressman Mike Simpson is proposing a plan to restore salmon, create jobs, ensure affordable clean energy and revitalize the region’s economy. It builds on a Northwest legacy of collaborative solutions. Let’s seize this historic opportunity to invest in our future.

Snake River, WA | By Alison Meyer Photography

Two summers ago, I floated the Middle Fork Salmon, in the heart of Idaho’s Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness. The trip had everything, spectacular scenery, great fishing, wonderful companions. The only thing missing was abundant salmon and steelhead which, before the construction of the four lower Snake River dams, made the 800 mile journey from the ocean to the Middle Fork Salmon to spawn. I came away from that trip knowing that restoring this amazing migration is critical to the future of the Pacific Northwest and our nation.

Communities across the Pacific Northwest have been in crisis for decades, feeling the pain from dwindling salmon runs. These iconic fish once filled our rivers, sustaining native tribes and powering local economies dependent on fishing, recreation and tourism. At the same time, infrastructure across the region is aging and our rivers and water quality face ongoing threats. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified problems, adding new stresses for families and communities, exposing inequities and forcing many businesses to close their doors.

Rivers Need Your Voice

Help us make the world a better place by signing up for opportunities to take action for rivers, clean water and the lives that depend on them.

The challenges facing salmon and communities are urgent and require bold solutions. That’s why we welcome a groundbreaking proposal announced by Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID). In a new video, he outlines a plan to revitalize the rivers and economy of the Pacific Northwest. The $33.5 billion package of infrastructure investments would advance salmon recovery, clean energy, agriculture and economic opportunity regionwide, and honor treaties and responsibilities to Northwest tribes.

The proposal’s river investments include:

  • Restoring the lower Snake River in southeast Washington through the removal of four federal dams
  • Water quality improvements in the Columbia Basin, Puget Sound, and Washington and Oregon coasts
  • Restoration of salmon in currently blocked areas in the upper Columbia and upper Snake rivers
  • Funding for the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan
  • Incentives to remove select fish-blocking dams in the Columbia Basin
  • Increasing tourism and recreation opportunities

You can read Congressman Simpson’s proposal here. There are a host of benefits for the region, including the restoration of the lower Snake – what would be the biggest river restoration effort in history. But there are also elements that require more conversation. For example, the framework includes wide-ranging restrictions on the application of federal environmental laws and extensions of licenses for hydropower dams throughout the entire Columbia Basin. In creating a path to restore rivers and salmon, we must not grant a broad license for other environmental harms.

American Rivers is committed to working with Congressman Simpson and the entire Northwest congressional delegation to make this package as beneficial as it can be for our rivers and communities.

A legacy of collaboration

Congressman Simpson’s fresh thinking and comprehensive approach builds on a legacy of collaboration in the region.

From the Yakima to the Owyhee, the Pacific Northwest has a track record of crafting innovative, bipartisan solutions to challenging water and river issues. Governors Inslee and Brown, and Senators Murray, Cantwell, Merkley and Wyden have supported these efforts in the past and they have a critical role to play now.

As Congressman Simpson says,

“The question I am asking the Northwest delegation, governors, tribes and stakeholders is “do we want to roll up our sleeves and come together to find a solution to save our salmon, protect our stakeholders and reset our energy system for the next 50 plus years on our terms?” Passing on this opportunity will mean we are letting the chips fall where they may for some judge, future administration or future congress to decide our fate on their terms. They will be picking winners and losers, not creating solutions.

We can create our own solution on our own terms.”

Economic benefits for the region and the nation

Congressman Simpson’s proposal is also an example of how investing in healthy rivers can be a down payment on a future of abundance and prosperity. A well-crafted, comprehensive solution would not only benefit the Northwest, but the nation as a whole by restoring salmon runs, bolstering clean energy and strengthening the economy of one of the most dynamic regions in the country.

Our Rivers as Economic Engines report details how investing in smart infrastructure and healthy rivers can revitalize local economies.

Salmon – and people – need healthy rivers

For decades, Northwest tribes have been spearheading salmon recovery solutions in the Columbia-Snake and regionwide. The Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) adopted its first resolution advocating for removal of the four lower Snake River dams in 1999.

In a statement last year, Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler said, “We view restoring the lower Snake River as urgent and overdue. To us, the lower Snake River is a living being, and, as stewards, we are compelled to speak the truth on behalf of this life force and the impacts these concrete barriers on the lower Snake have on salmon, steelhead, and lamprey, on a diverse ecosystem, on our Treaty-reserved way of life, and on our people.”

In his video, Congressman Simpson says, “My staff and I approached this challenge with the idea that there must be a way to restore Idaho salmon and keep the four lower Snake River dams. But after exhausting dozens of possible solutions, we weren’t able to find one…In the end we realized there is no viable path that can allow us to keep the dams in place…I am certain if we do not take this course, we are condemning Idaho salmon to extinction.”

At American Rivers, we’ve seen dam removal work on rivers nationwide. More than 1,700 dams have been removed in our country, restoring free-flowing rivers and revitalizing river ecosystems. From Maine’s Penobscot River to Washington’s Elwha, White Salmon and most recently the Middle Fork Nooksack, American Rivers has helped spearhead successful dam removal and river restoration efforts.

We need your voice: speak up for a comprehensive solution

Big problems require big solutions – and the Pacific Northwest has always been a place of big ideas.

American Rivers applauds Congressman Simpson for tackling this region’s interconnected challenges. This is a historic opportunity to invest in what makes the Northwest strong. Congressman Simpson has given us a great place to start.

Be a Part of the Solution

Ask your members of Congress to embrace a solution that recovers salmon, strengthens the economy, ensures clean energy and upholds treaties and responsibilities to tribes.

5 responses to “A bold plan for salmon, clean energy and jobs in the Pacific Northwest

  1. Not to mention the profound work of the tribes; I recall a man called Marlin that had been fighting for salmon his whole life and I believe died in the nineties. It was 1998 I believe when the Idaho chapter of the American Fisheries Society voted unanimously that the 4 Snake River Dams had to be removed for there to be fishable runs in Idaho. Unanimously. I have now lived longer than the average American male.

    Will I be gone, and the forests burnt down as well, before the word of those scientists are honored? Not to speak of the original people here that kept this place so wondrously for thousands, not our hundreds of years.

    PS It was with my local NW group Wild Salmon Nation (1991-2001) and the tribe and American Rivers that we got Condit Dam removed from the White Salmon River finally in 2011. A 20 year contest.

  2. Most of this is great, but I am continually disappointed that American Rivers gives total support and empowerment to the Yakima Plan. AR and Mr. Irwin in this article constantly tout dam removal, yet the Yakima Plan includes a billion-dollar dam at Bumping Lake that would destroy an endangered Bull Trout population and flood almost 1000 acres of ancient, never-logged, late successional forest.

    A more thoughtful and appropriate stance for AR would be to support elements of the Yakima Plan that fits their Mission, and call out items like destroying Bumping Lake as elements they will not support.

  3. A point I think needs emphasis, but is often left out, is that wild salmon is a very healthy and popular food and it is FREE to grow. Right now salmon are grown in pens with constructed feed usually containing dye. But we could be growing wild, healthy salmon if the rivers were open

  4. The world we leave our children is fragile at best. It is imperative that we look at the implications of our choices- now and in the future- and make those that are critical to the long-term health of our environment. That is the greatest gift we can bequeath to future generations (of all species).

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