Friday, January 28, 2011

Let's Do Big Things- Save the Snake

photo credit BLM
By Nicole Cordan
Policy and Legal Director
Save Our Wild Salmon

In State of the Union address, President Obama’s salmon joke invoked the spirit of a cherished creature, and through it a culture, a way-of-life, and a bit of our American history – all of which has resonated throughout the country.  While the President might have been off a bit in his facts, he is right that current salmon policies and salmon agencies are inefficient, have wasted money, have cost jobs, and have failed to recover the Northwest’s signature species.   And he is also right to suggest that it’s time for a change.  But what the President didn’t say, and perhaps part of the answer to why his punchline had such a big impact, is what’s at stake if he doesn’t change course on salmon.

From the peaks of the Grand Tetons where it is born, through Yellowstone National Park, across the Continental Divide and then into the rugged mountains of Idaho, northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, the Snake River and its tributaries form one of the most important habitats in America.  The Snake River Basin is the highest, wildest, most intact salmon spawning and rearing habitat left in the lower 48 states and it is home to one-of-a-kind salmon – salmon that climb higher and travel further than any other salmon on earth – as well as more than a dozen other endangered species.

The Endangered Species Coalition report, It’s Getting Hot Out There, listed this area as one of the top 10 places in the country to protect for endangered species in a warming world.  It’s no surprise why: this special place, nestled in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, is a Noah’s Ark for salmon.  While lower elevation salmon habitats in the Columbia River Basin are expected to warm to temperatures too hot to sustain salmon, the Snake River Basin’s waters will remain cool, allowing salmon to survive, thrive, and reseed the rest of the Columbia River. 

This is what’s at stake: these one-of-a-kind creatures and this unparalleled place will be lost to future generations if this generation – this administration – doesn’t change course.

photo credit BLM
Four federal dams on the lower part of the Snake River wreak havoc on salmon migrating to and from this Noah’s Ark.  Just four dams – in a basin which is known as the most dammed watershed on Earth with about 250 large dams – need to be removed to ensure the survival of these magnificent creatures, the more than 140 other species that they feed, the unique place they call home, and the jobs, families and communities that rely on them.

Four dams -- it doesn’t seem like too much to ask, does it?

I’m not suggesting that this path – the path of removing four dams – will be easy.  But given the consequences – the loss if we choose not to protect and reconnect this special place to the creatures that feed it and feed us – the action becomes essential.  And as the President told us in his State of the Union address, it won’t necessarily be easy to build a better future.  But, build a better future we must.  It is a responsibility we hold for the next generation.

In its Spring 2010 Special Issue, Newsweek chose Columbia-Snake River salmon as one of its top 100 places/things to see before they are gone due to climate change. These fish and their rivers were one of just seven such places in the United States. 

One of the top seven.  One of the top ten. 

We are the last generation that gets to decide whether Snake River salmon will exist for our children, and their children.  It is an awesome responsibility.  I want to tell my daughter that we did everything we could to save these creatures for her.  I don’t want to tell her that we had the choice, but we decided to do nothing, or too little, or to stick with the status quo, because it was simply too hard to do what was needed.

The President also reminded us – inspiring some of us – that we are a nation “where anything is possible.  We do big things.  From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.”

Let’s dare to dream of a future where Snake River salmon continue to swim through our Northwest waters, feeding us, our ancient forests, and the more than 140 other species that depend on them for their survival.  Let’s do big things – let’s remove those four dams and bring wild salmon back to our rivers, and good jobs back to our coastal and rural communities.  And let’s win the future – for ourselves and for the generations who come after us.   

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This is a guest post by Save Our Wild Salmon, as part of our occasional series from Endangered Species Coalition member organizations

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