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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Matt Eleazer: Removing dams crucial to saving $1.5B industry, preventing extinction of iconic NW salmon

By Matt Eleazer

By Matt Eleazer

As a lifelong angler and owner of East Fork Outfitters, I’m incredibly concerned about our nation’s Northwest salmon and steelhead runs as both species edge closer to extinction.

Over the past 25 years, as a Coast Guard certified captain and fishing guide, I’ve loved sharing the outdoors and my deep love for the water with people, whether we’re fishing for salmon, steelhead, or sturgeon.

Since the completion of the lower Snake River dams in 1975, the populations of Snake River salmon and steelhead have declined by at least 90%. If we act now, we can forestall the extinction of these keystone species while also growing the economy, supporting tribal sovereignty, and creating a more stable future for the region’s utility customers.

The survival of NW salmon and steelhead is directly tied to our economic well-being.

In Washington state, over 940,000 people fish, spending $1.5 billion and supporting 15,000 jobs.

Fishing helps sustain the economy in small communities in the Northwest where opportunities may otherwise be limited. According to a recent NWF Outdoors podcast interview with Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, the month-long Chinook salmon season brings in $34 million for the small town of Riggins, Idaho. Imagine the economic benefits after we remove the dams and reach our recovery goals for these fish!

Time is running out for salmon and this will continue to have a direct impact on license purchases, retail sales, guided trips, hotel occupancy and more.

Healthy salmon populations are also critical for Tribal communities. For centuries, Northwest Tribes have harvested salmon on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. They have relied on them to sustain their cultures, economies, and identity. Because of the dams, salmon populations continue to decline and the sovereign and inherent right of Northwest Tribes to fish is denied. A study from the Nez Perce Tribe documents that given current trends, nearly 80% of wild spring chinook populations in the Snake River Basin will be nearing extinction by 2025.

At the end of the day, this is also a taxpayer issue. We’ve spent decades trying to mitigate problems associated with the dams by implementing half-measures which have cost taxpayers more than $17 billion.

The cost of keeping the lower Snake River dams is already too high and projected to increase dramatically while the dams only produce about 4% of the region’s power generation. If the dams were replaced with a diverse set of affordable clean energy technologies, Northwest communities will come out stronger with a modernized power grid and better year-round reliability. Planning for changes in power sources must be viewed not as an expense, but as an ecological and economic investment.

Last year, Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson jumpstarted the conversation by proposing a plan that would recover salmon, invest in the NW communities and restore the lower Snake River by removing the four dams. Simpson’s framework is based on hundreds of stakeholder meetings and outreach. The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, comprised of 57 Tribes across the region, unanimously adopted a resolution supporting Rep. Simpson’s plan.

The conversation continues as our own Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray have promised to release their own plan to recover salmon by the end of July.

We have more momentum than we have ever had on the effort to recover salmon and we need to act now, to bring back the magnificent salmon runs of the Columbia River basin by removing dams and investing in sustainable, clean energy solutions for NW communities.

We are on the cusp of the biggest restoration project in human history but we are running out of time. Apathy is the ticket to salmon extinction. Your voice matters and I encourage you to join me by picking up the phone or writing to our elected officials. Tell them we want them to remove the lower Snake River dams to save our salmon, support the fishing economy and stabilize the future of angling heritage in the Northwest.

Matt Eleazer, a native of Battle Ground, Washington, is the owner and operator of East Fork Outfitters. Matt is a professional fishing guide and Coast Guard certified captain with over 25 years of Pacific Northwest fishing experience.

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