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Jan. 29, 2023

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Tribes launch study on restoring salmon runs to upper Columbia River

The Columbian
Published:

SPOKANE — Native American tribes from Washington and Idaho who live near the upper Columbia River are beginning a study of whether salmon runs can be restored above Grand Coulee Dam, which blocked those runs more than 70 years ago.

The tribes want to study what it would take to restore salmon runs to the 100 river miles between the dam, the nation’s greatest producer of hydropower, and the U.S.-Canadian border.

The study proposal was released this week by the Upper Columbia United Tribes, which represents the Colville, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel and Kootenai tribes of Idaho and Washington.

“Grand Coulee Dam should have been built with fish passage,” said John Osborn of Spokane, a leader of the local Sierra Club chapter who supports the return of the salmon. “Justice and stewardship compel us to return salmon to these rivers.”

D.R. Michel, executive director for the Upper Columbia United Tribes, said the return of salmon would restore tribal cultural and religious experiences, plus provide new revenues for the tribes.

The loss of salmon runs damaged the tribes’ “spiritual connection and identity,” the proposal said. “The removal of an iconic species from the ecosystem greatly impacted forest growth, water quality, Native American culture and the entire food chain.”

Salmon runs on the upper Columbia and its tributaries were blocked first by Grand Coulee Dam, which was built in the 1930s, and later by Chief Joseph Dam, which was built downstream in the 1950s. Both dams were built without fish ladders, and emaciated a 10,000-year-old Native American fishery.

The tribes have sent the study proposal to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland. The tribes will collect comments over the next 30 days before deciding how to proceed.

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