The keys to recovering Snake River salmon are these: first, a plan that keeps the region whole; second, an understanding that we are talking about economic, cultural and ecological restoration of a huge portion of the Columbia/Snake River region; and third, a vision of what the restored river will bring us.
We must first come to terms with the science: Removal of the four lower Snake River dams is necessary to provide adequate passage of salmon, steelhead and lamprey to and from the ocean. Once we accept dam removal as the way forward, we can cooperate to handle the resulting impacts as others have done. Nearly a thousand dam removals have occurred in this country (three in Idaho). All of them have been economic, sociocultural and ecological successes.
The people of the Lewiston/Clarkston area deserve special consideration because it’s their backyard. Their concerns about negative impacts are legitimate. However, on the positive side, this area, because of its fortuitous location at the confluence of two of the greatest salmon-producing rivers in the world, has arguably the most to gain from river restoration and salmon recovery. Lewiston/Clarkston could be a hub for river-related recreation that includes floating and jetboat trips, and year-round sport and tribal fishing. These and other activities could help create vibrant downtown areas. And the renewed river would accommodate a long and well-loved greenbelt, much like those in other cities.
The status quo is unacceptable and unworkable. It sets a very low bar and shows a lack of vision, creativity, enthusiasm and “can-do” spirit. Worst of all, it has no endpoint. We owe it to ourselves to find a solution of which we can be proud. Surely we can find an alternative way to move grain the 140 miles from Lewiston to Pasco and offset potential job losses at the Port of Lewiston. Some economic studies report that each barge leaving the port carries with it a $20,000 taxpayer subsidy; why not reallocate that money to a solution with lasting and fulfilling benefits? The small amount of energy produced by those dams can, and should, be replaced with conservation and renewable sources.
We know there will be infrastructure impacts. However, infrastructure repair along with green construction and native landscape restoration represent an opportunity to create meaningful jobs while building an incredible destination location.
As noted, the citizens of Lewsiston/Clarkston are central to this effort. However, we mustn’t lose sight of the scale of this Columbia/Snake River Ecosystem and the number of potential beneficiaries in the region. The fish are the foundation of the economies, cultures and ecologies of everything from the Pacific Ocean (remember Orca) to the most interior reaches of the Snake River Basin —including Redfish Lake, 900 miles inland and more than a mile above sea level.
Imagine dinner at Redfish Lodge when there are actually red fish to see. But to build it, we must first envision it.
David Cannamela has been a Boise resident for about 26 years. He loves to fish, hunt and ride bicycles, and is a native-plant enthusiast.