Closed fisheries from imperiled fish runs in the Columbia River Basin are prompting calls for action before it's too late.
Steelhead trout numbers in the Columbia and its tributaries could be the lowest since records began in the 1930s. On the Columbia, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife issued an emergency closure on salmon fishing up to Bonneville Dam, although portions now have reopened with strict limits.
Marcia Brownlee, program manager of the Artemis Sportswomen initiative for the National Wildlife Federation, said this summer has brought the threat into focus.
"Particularly in the Columbia River Basin, we see outfitters, guides and other businesses that really depend upon healthy salmon and steelhead runs," Brownlee observed. "They're shutting their doors for the season. Anglers are walking away from what sustains them in order to protect it."
In May, Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said they would lead a stakeholder engagement process to develop a regional plan for saving salmon from extinction. As Congress works on the budget-reconciliation package, Washington leaders are backing the inclusion of salmon habitat improvements.
However, leaders in the region have not backed the inclusion of a $33 billion proposal from Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, which includes removing four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington.
Brownlee argued removing the dams has to be the first step for restoring salmon and steelhead populations in the Northwest.
"We need to do everything in our power to make sure that emergency closures do not become permanent closures," Brownlee urged. "And what we've seen this summer has really illustrated that what we're doing now isn't enough. We need to do more."
Earlier in the year, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., praised spring Chinook salmon runs on the Snake River, which were higher than in 2019 and 2020. The members of Congress said it was proof dams and salmon can co-exist.