4 NW Governors Sign Collaborative Columbia Salmon, Steelhead Agreement

It’s nowhere near as sexy and immediately actionable as this week’s crabbing and coho news or recent trout stockings, but a major inland salmon and steelhead recovery agreement signed today is drawing nods from those who take the long view on restoring fish runs.

The governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington pledged to forge a collaborative framework for increasing the abundance of Chinook, coho, A- and B-runs, and other Columbia River stocks and to advance the goals of NMFS’s multiparty Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force.

It aims to do so with help from the region’s tribes, federal agencies and stakeholders.

“We are excited that regional leadership is stepping up to find a comprehensive solution to an issue that the federal government has struggled to fix for so long,” said Chris Haeger, president of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders.

“But this can’t be more of the same old bureaucracy—we’ve spent decades talking about restoring the lower Snake River,” he added. “This new process needs to result in urgent actions if we are going to have any chance of recovering our world-class salmon runs.”

Last month, federal dam operators decided to keep four dams on Washington’s Snake in place, despite having also recognized doing so is the effective way to restore runs.

That disappointed but did not surprise salmon and steelhead advocates, among others, who’ve long pushed to remove them.

“We believe that major changes need to occur in order to restore the salmon runs within the Nez Perce Territory. The status quo has not and will not work,” said Elliott Moffett of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment in response to today’s agreement.

Nimiipuu is what the Nez Perce call themselves.

The September decision by BPA, the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation at least did include more spill to help push young fish out of the system. Besides hydropower, the system is used for barging products.

“We wish to congratulate NOAA Fisheries and the Columbia Basin Partnership Task Force members for their achievements in setting the goals for abundant and sustainable native salmon and steelhead. We will commit to engaging our tribal and federal partners, and other stakeholders, in this collaborative effort which we fully expect to lead to meaningful actions to achieve these goals,” write Governors Brad Little, Steve Bullock, Kate Brown and Jay Inslee in the agreement.

Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association said it was the first time since 1993 that the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, respectively, have gone in together on a letter on this issue.

“This is exciting progress, and a strong signal that our region is ready to build on the progress and relationships we built at the Columbia Basin Partnership, in Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Orca Task Force (and the ensuing stakeholder discussions), and in Gov. Little’s Idaho Work Group,” she said.

“This region is done with the false choices of energy vs. fish or farming vs. fish, and ready to envision and build a modern future that includes all of us – fish, prosperous farmers and affordable clean energy.  We can and will double the number of wild and hatchery fish in the river!” Hamilton stated.