'When going back makes sense, that’s progress'

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, about 300 Idahoans gathered together on the second floor of the Grove Hotel in downtown Boise to speak with one voice on behalf of a free-flowing lower Snake River and restoration of wild salmon. One of the evening's clear and poignant voices for wild salmon was retired Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologist David Cannamela. His remarks from the evening follow.

Photo by Rich Howard.

I hope I can inspire you to take part in this process today because we have at hand the opportunity to do something monumental. We can begin the process of reclaiming, for everyone, the economic, cultural, social, aesthetic and ecological treasures that were stolen when that 140-mile stretch of Snake River below Lewiston was dammed. We can begin to undo the ill-conceived and unjustified actions that turned a vibrant, productive river of life into an unsustainable, unnecessary and burdensome channel of death, to borrow some words from author Keith Petersen.  

Each of us should be easily moved to action because we are all stakeholders this “salmon” issue. And that is because this “salmon issue” is really about the vast, complex and immeasurably productive world that Snake River salmon and Pacific lamprey create by virtue of their unique and amazing lifestyles.  

To be clear: Dam removal is a proven means to and end; it is not a cause unto itself.
— David Cannamela

So, who are the stakeholders? Native Americans come to mind first; and far be it for me to speak for or about them. Respect is my place here.

As taxpayers and ratepayers, we are the ones who ultimately fund the system--for worse or for worse, in this case.  

Sport anglers and commercial fishers represent an important stakeholder group in large part because they open the economic doors for the cast of thousands: the hotel, motel, restaurant and service station owners;  tackle manufacturers and retailers, outfitters and guides, power and float boat manufacturers and retailers, and related service industries; not to forget everyone employed by these enterprises. 

Our own town of Riggins provides a tip-of-the-iceberg-view of what a river restored can do. And what of Lewiston with its ridiculously fortuitous twin-river location? We can only imagine what a free-flowing Snake River will do for it. 

The value of free fertilizer cannot be overstated. Virtually every land owner in the Snake River basin, especially those who own land where salmon go, will enjoy increased property value, productivity, sustainability and beauty as the fish bring the bounty of the ocean back to us. And because we are all owners of the vast public lands in Idaho, we too will reap those benefits. I like the smell of life on my property!

The stakeholder list continues with trout anglers, whale lovers, tourists, bird watchers, scientists, wildflower enthusiasts, hunters and others because salmon and lamprey feed everything. And lest we forget, the “everything” they feed are also stakeholders. 

The U.S. District Court has ordered a full federal process to examine the facts and options for restoring Snake River salmon. The path forward is clear, bolstered by hundreds of river restoration success stories from cities and towns across the country. Notably, many of these dam removals were accomplished with the support of the same federal agencies that refuse to consider dam removal on the lower Snake, despite repeated requests by the federal courts to do so. 

And this is where we come in. Through this process we can demand that dam removal becomes the centerpiece of the restoration plan.

To be clear: Dam removal is a proven means to and end; it is not a cause unto itself. The cause is to recover our imperiled salmon runs by implementing a biologically and economically justified plan. We are talking about the removal of four dams that have long outlived their uselessness.

The status quo is irrational, even by human standards. Those dams could well be the Rube Goldberg Center for Make Believe Salmon Recovery, except for the cost, which is very real and never ending.

We are not paying the cost of saving salmon because, clearly, we are not doing that. Instead, we are bearing the burdens of not saving salmon. Freeing the lower Snake will be good for us in countless ways, not the least of which is that it is the right thing to do. We know this because when we envision an Idaho once again teeming with salmon, it makes us feel good. We will be proud to say that we helped return the Redfish-less Lake and Salmon-less River to their former glory. We know instinctively, and in our heart of hearts, that we are healthy and happy with salmon in our lives and landscapes, and that we're impoverished without them. 

Wendell Berry put it something like this: “When going back makes sense, that’s progress."
We who see ourselves as advocates of a revitalized Snake River ecosystem invite you to join us in this great endeavor. Others have done it; we can do it. It’s our turn.