In a statement released last week, Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray of Washington rejected the Simpson Snake River Recovery Plan. The Snake River once supported strong salmon and steelhead runs, but like so many great rivers, dams and humans have pushed the rivers to a breaking point. Snake River salmon and steelhead are at an inflection point. Unless drastic changes are implemented, the fish face a certain path towards extinction. Earlier this year, Congressman Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, released a plan to restore Snake River salmon and steelhead and support the affected industries and stakeholders. This new approach to salmon recovery may be the last best chance to restore these fish, but Washington’s top Democrats oppose Rep. Simpson’s good-faith efforts to holistically approach this contentious issue.

Rep. Mike Simpson has made it clear: “I am going to stay alive long enough to see salmon return to healthy populations in Idaho.”

Governor Inslee and Senator Murray said:

“While we appreciate Representative Simpson’s efforts and the conversations we have had so far with Tribes and stakeholders, it is clear more work within the Pacific Northwest is necessary to craft a lasting, comprehensive solution, and we do not believe the Simpson proposal can be included in the proposed federal infrastructure package. Therefore, we are calling for a formal, regional process that is based on science, consensus, and ensuring all voices in the region are heard…To make this goal into reality, certain key steps must be part of our approach:

  • The work of the Columbia Basin Collaborative should be accelerated and result in clear, detailed proposals for the future of the region that reflect the best available science, comprehensive stakeholder input and consensus.
  • Infrastructure must be part of the solution. That means investments in clean energy storage solutions, habitat restoration, transportation infrastructure, waterway management, Washington’s agricultural economy, and more.
  • Solutions that benefit the entire Columbia River Basin must be pursued. Washington state has a history of successfully bringing diverse groups together to develop solutions that benefit all stakeholders. This must be the model for the management of the Columbia River Basin.”
Endangered Snake River sockeye salmon, NOAA Fisheries

While Senator Cantwell did not sign on to the statement, she too opposes the Simpson plan at this time. “Cantwell, who told The Spokesman-Review in March she didn’t think Simpson’s plan would be part of the infrastructure package, was not part of the joint statement. But in a statement to the Seattle Times, Cantwell joined her fellow Washington Democrats in opposing the GOP congressman’s pitch, though she suggested the infrastructure bill could include pieces of the Simpson proposal.”

For years, salmon recovery has pitted one side against the other in what was, well, is still known as the “Salmon Wars.” There are serious economies behind these dams that are slowly extirpating wild salmon and steelhead. Rep. Simpson’s plan attempts to keep all parties whole, a departure from the never ending lawsuits that we’re accustomed to. The $33.5 billion plan would:

  • Breach all four dams by Fall 2031
  • Replace hydropower through a $10 billion grant for clean power generation
  • Improve watersheds
  • Lock in the other dams in the Columbia River System for 35-50 years and end lawsuits relating to anadromous fish
  • Efficiently transport grain and agriculture products
  • Protect impacted communities through economic development funds
  • Provide funding for agriculture irrigation mitigation

The reaction from the conservation world was dismay. American Rivers, National Wildlife Federation, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, and Save Our Wild Salmon, In a joint-statement, said: “We hear Sen. Murray and Gov. Inslee making an unequivocal commitment that salmon will not go extinct on their watch. We will hold them to that promise starting today…There can be no more kicking the can down the road. The region now needs a concrete process to develop an urgent action plan on a defined timeline.”

In any event, Simpson’s plan is still a plan, but it is the culmination of hundreds of hours of meetings with diverse stakeholder groups. And at this time it is the only plan around that has a reasonable chance of recovering Snake River salmon and steelhead. While federal infrastructure package talks continue to progress, hopefully Rep. Simpson’s plan gets some deserved attention.

Multi-Billion Dollar Plan to Remove the Four Lower Snake River Dams Unveiled

Snake River Tops American Rivers’ 2021 Endangered Rivers Report

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