Environment and Planning
5:32 pm
Thu April 24, 2014

Tribes Optimistic About Returning Salmon To Upper Columbia Basin

Hydropower dams built without fish ladders have blocked migratory fish from the upper reaches of the Columbia and Snake Rivers for decades.

File photo. An aerial view of Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River, the border between Oregon and Idaho.
Credit MrPanyGoff / Wikimedia

Tribal leaders from across the region gathered for the past two days in Portland to strategize how to return salmon to their full historic range.

The meeting ended Thursday on an optimistic note.

Northwest American tribes and Canadian First Nations presented a united front to restore salmon above Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River and to southern Idaho via the Snake River.

Shoshone-Bannock tribal chairman Nathan Small says on this he’s long felt like he was beating his head on a wall.

“Now I feel maybe my head is going to raise a little bit because there is that possibility to be talked about.”

Tribes and other fish advocates see opportunity to gain traction in two forums. One is the federal relicensing of Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon Project dams. The other is the pending renegotiation of the 50-year-old Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

But stumbling blocks remain. Those include ratepayer objections to the cost of getting salmon around very tall dams and degraded spawning habitat upstream.