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Could Salmon Return to the Upper Columbia River?


Pacific Northwest tribes look into returning salmon to their original spawning grounds.

Salmon have not been seen north of Washington’s Chief Joseph Dam for more than 70 years. Last month, the Upper Columbia United Tribes proposed a study that could see the return of a once abundant species to the upper Columbia River.

The UCUT represents the Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, Kootenai and Confederated Colville tribes of Washington and Idaho.

The study proposal cites the cultural and religious significance of salmon for Pacific Northwest tribes:

Since time immemorial, indigenous people in the Columbia Basin lived a way of life that was sustained by a healthy ecosystem. Fish were a mainstay of their diet – sustaining them both physically and spiritually. Salmon still connect the native people of the Pacific Northwest to the Earth and to each other.

The Columbia River Basin covers seven states and British Columbia, from the Pacific Ocean to Yellowstone National Park.

Image via Wikicommons


Two upper Columbia River Dams, the Grand Coulee and the Chief Joseph, were built without fish ladders which left millions of salmon shut out of their spawning grounds. The resulting die-off brought an end to a 10,000-year-old Native American fishery, as well as a species of supersalmon nicknamed “June hogs.”

Fish passage to Idaho is also blocked by the Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River, a major tributary of the Columbia.

Tom Karier of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council told The Oregonian that extensive research would need to be conducted to ensure that salmon could survive in the altered upper Columbia habitat.

The study proposal also calls for modernizing the 1964 Columbia River Treaty, an agreement between the United States and Canada that addressed power generation and flood control along the river. The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission supports adding a third purpose, “Ecosystem Based Function,” to the Treaty, which would make fish passage and species reintroduction a priority in the coming decades.

The Treaty saw its 50th anniversary last year, and a modernization proposal is being considered by the State Department.

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Could Salmon Return to the Upper Columbia River?