Salmon and Orcas Need Us

Today, Snake River salmon made the Endangered Species Coalition’s “Top Ten” list of imperiled species in dire need of strong conservation measures. Usually making someone’s top ten list is a good thing. But this is a list no species wants to be on.

The Coalition’s report, Removing the Walls to Recovery, is full of tragically gorgeous photos of some of nature’s key species—all of which are vanishing on our watch. If we lose them, we will lose many more.

Credit: Scott Cushman

A couple years ago, the State of Washington took a tally of how many species are connected to salmon. They counted over 130 species. One of those species, the endangered Southern Resident killer whale, is particularly close to my heart. This small band of peaceful and playful orcas—there are only 80 of them left—comes to the coast of Oregon and Washington State every year to feed on the Snake River’s Chinook salmon runs. If we lose the salmon, we lose the killer whales.

Center for Whale Research, Photos taken under Federal Permits NMFS 15569 / DFO SARA 388

The oldest whale in the Southern Resident killer whale population, who the locals call Granny, is over 100 years old. Granny remembers a time before the Snake and Columbia Rivers became the most hydroelectrically dammed river system in the world. Granny once had plenty to eat. Today, she and her family of whales are hanging on by a thin thread. They can’t find enough fish to eat. Saving Snake River salmon is about saving an entire network of life—from orcas to eagles.

We know that human activities are causing a mass extinction. In a study released last year, a group of scientists found an “exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity” over the last hundred years. They concluded that averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of entire ecosystems may still be possible—“but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.”

If anything positive came out of the election of Donald Trump for me personally, it’s that I’m not waiting around for our next President to help save these species. There is no time. I am energized to fight for these amazing critters with all I’ve got and all of you. The real power has always been and stays with us—the people.

So, let’s flex that muscle. Let’s call and write our elected officials and remind them who they work for and what matters to us. I know it doesn’t always feel like it, but—especially when we speak together—our voices matter.

If you want to join me and speak up for Snake River salmon, the Army Corps is currently taking our comments on how to manage the hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. The Army Corps is undertaking this review by court order because for decades the dams have had devastating impacts on salmon, risking their extinction. At last count, there were 13 different runs at risk of extinction on the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

Let’s tell the Army Corps that we want them to bring back sustainable, wild Snake River salmon runs—for the Southern Resident orcas, for all the other species that depend on salmon, and for us.

Written comments can be sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, OR 97208-2870. Or email them at comment@crso.info.

About the Authors

Giulia C.S. Good Stefani

Staff Attorney, Marine Mammals, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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