The magnificent salmon runs of the Columbia River, once the world’s most abundant, are nearing extinction. With 2023 salmon returns dropping to historic lows- and after a decades-long legal battle to save them- we are finally on course toward the right side of history.
In December of 2023, the National Wildlife Federation joined a coalition of fishing, conservation and energy groups in a significant step forward to restore and conserve Snake and Columbia River salmon and steelhead runs. We applaud the Biden administration, which is supporting a bold new blueprint—with considerable federal funding—to continue working together on next steps to support the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, developed by the four Lower Columbia River Treaty Tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington.
“Thanks to the leadership of Northwest Tribes, we have specific agreed-upon actions that move the Northwest region one step closer to saving Columbia River salmon and steelhead runs,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The National Wildlife Federation is grateful that the Biden Administration has declared that salmon recovery is a government-wide priority and is willing to seize the solutions within our grasp to move us toward a future where abundant salmon populations and wildlife-responsible clean energy can coexist.
Since the final construction of the Lower Snake River dams in the 1970s, 13 species of salmon and steelhead have been listed threatened according to the Endangered Species Act. Despite decades of habitat recovery attempts at the cost more than $24 billion, salmon returns have remained perilously low, with certain runs approaching the threshold of extinction. Salmon are central to tradition, culture and nourishment for Northwest Tribes and we have an urgent opportunity to make good on upholding Tribal and Treaty rights. Climate change is accelerating the crisis, leading fatally warm waters and forcing emergency fishing closures, resulting in economic devastation in inland and coastal fishing communities.
For more than two decades, the National Wildlife Federation has led a coalition of advocates seeking to recover the imperiled salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin. In early 2020, the National Wildlife Federation launched a campaign to bring Snake River salmon back to from the brink of extinction.
This campaign has brought together Tribes, farmers, irrigators and recreational and commercial fishermen. As the impacts of climate change shape our region, the salmon crisis is increasingly urgent.
The Northwest is undergoing an energy transition that is gaining momentum. We believe that we can work together to strengthen our communities, ensure reliable clean energy, and bring wild salmon back to abundance. Together, we can support the largest salmon recovery effort in history.
“Together, we can forge a future where healthy salmon runs thrive in the Snake River and Columbia Basin, Indigenous sovereignty is respected and celebrated, and the cultural heritage of the Nez Perce Tribe, and other Indigenous communities remains vibrant and resilient.” – Claudia Kauffman, member of the Nez Perce Tribe and the Washington State Senate, where she represents the 47th Legislative District.
Our Northwest Opportunityis a group of individuals, businesses, and organizations who support a stronger future for the Northwest region. People across the region are sharing their stories and coming together to have conversations that will move our region forward.
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A Long Fight to Restore Snake River Salmon
The fight to protect salmon isn't a recent problem but one that spans several decades. From the Columbia Basin Tribe treaties in 1855 to groundbreaking agreements reached in 2023, learn about the timeline of of the battle to safeguard our salmon.
U.S. Government Sets New Course on Lower Snake River, Toward 'Right Side of History'
The joint agreement with the Biden administration, the States of Oregon and Washington and Nez Perce, Yakama, Warm Springs, and Umatilla Tribes offers a multi-year pause in Snake River litigation to allow for the implementation of federal commitments that aim to advance the recovery of salmon, steelhead and other native fish populations throughout the broader Columbia River Basin.
Slowing Down Streams for Salmon
Beavers and beaver structures help juvenile coho salmon survive and thrive
Congressman Hopes Politics Align on Divisive Northwest Dams
February of 2021 brought good news for salmon: a plan from Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson to remove the four Lower Snake River dams.
Salmon People: A tribe’s decades-long fight to take down the Lower Snake River dams and restore a way of life
The story of the Snake River salmon, intertwined with the history of the Nez Perce tribe, has been thousands of years in the making. Today, both the fish and the tribe battle for the survival of all that sustained their way of life for so many generations.
Debate Regarding Snake River Dams is Far From Over
The federal government’s new plan doesn’t give us the solutions we need. We have an opportunity to think bigger and bolder — to lead the largest salmon recovery effort in history, invigorate our economy, and honor tribal treaty rights.
The Naturals: Snake River Sockeye Salmon
Sockeye salmon are an amazing species of fish. They swim 925 miles up-current in the Columbia, Snake and Salmon Rivers. They climb 6,548 feet, dodging predators and hazards from the Pacific to Redfish Lake, in Idaho– and eat nothing. We need to act now to save them.
Protecting Fish and Wildlife as We Transition to Clean Energy
The Northwest is transitioning to clean, renewable energy. However, the impacts of some carbon-free sources, like hydroelectric dams, can come at an unacceptably high cost to wildlife. We can meet our energy needs with renewable power sources that are responsibly sited, developed and operated. Here's how.
Salmon Migration: Showing the way toward a healthy ecology
Salmon migration is a Homerian journey and an iconic wildlife event. It prompts us to think about the extraordinary energy that drives this epic movement for many animals across all landscapes—and the increasing barriers they face.
Gardening for Salmon
If you have a green thumb, you might be surprised to discover that you can give salmon a boost, whether you are by the coast or further inland. Plant with a purpose to help protect salmon habitat with your garden.
My Son the Sock Guy for the Sockeye
The tale of Lonesome Larry— the solitary salmon that swam 900 miles upstream back to Redfish Lake, Idaho, the only sockeye to return to spawn that year— transformed a 5th grader into a young conservationist. His mom describes her son’s journey as a salmon advocate and entrepreneur.
The Way Forward Is Together
Our Northwest Opportunity is a group of individuals, business owners, and organizations throughout the Northwest. We believe that together we can restore salmon, strengthen communities, and invest in affordable, clean power, all while honoring the culture and treaties of sovereign tribal nations, through four goals.
Salmon Migration Storymap
Learn about the challenges facing wild salmon on their iconic migration by checking out our new interactive story map.
Our Northwest Opportunity
We can lead the largest salmon recovery effort in history, invigorate our economy and honor tribal treaty rights. And we can do it while continuing our region’s legacies of clean energy and a strong farm economy. Learn more.
A Vision for the Snake River
Can we imagine a brighter future? A new vision for the Snake River would bring clean energy, abundant salmon and thriving agriculture in the Northwest.
The Case for Removing Snake River Dams: The Sightline Institute
The debate over removing the four dams on the lower Snake River is decades old. In 2019, the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest (ECONW) issued a new independent on the benefits and costs of restoring the river.
More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.