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Nez Perce Tribe joins State of Oregon and Conservation Groups Requesting Court to Spill Water over Federal Dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers and Drawdown Reservoirs to Aid Imperiled Salmon and Steelhead

Court filings emphasize extinction crisis for Snake River spring-summer Chinook salmon, need for immediate action, and need to breach the four Lower Snake River dams

(Lapwai, ID) — Today, the Nez Perce Tribe joined the State of Oregon and conservation and fishing group plaintiffs in asking the federal court for the District of Oregon to require specific operations at the federal dams on the Lower Snake and mainstem Columbia River dams to assist imperiled salmon navigate through the gauntlet of reservoirs on their migration to the ocean. Recent analysis shows that many populations of wild Snake River spring-summer Chinook salmon and steelhead populations are facing an extinction crisis.

“Our salmon are in crisis.  There’s simply no other way to describe the current circumstances,” said Nez Perce Tribe Chairman, Samuel N. Penney. “Bold action to save our salmon and honor our treaties is urgent and overdue.  Snake River salmon and steelhead need a river – not a series of warm pools.  We must make these reservoirs on the lower Snake and mainstem Columbia less lethal immediately, simply to ensure the future existence of these fish.  These stopgap measures are critical actions that our salmon need to survive while we work with the Administration and Congress to ensure salmon do not go extinct on our watch.”

After nearly 30 years of failed salmon plans, Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon are closer to extinction than ever.  In fact, the most recent analysis indicates that 42% of the populations of Snake River spring/summer Chinook are – right now – at or below the “quasi-extinction” level of 50 or less spawners on the spawning grounds for four consecutive years.  And by 2025, 77% of these populations are projected to hit this level.  

“The United States has a Treaty obligation to the salmon and to us.  The comprehensive approach to restoring the Lower Snake River and investing in a stronger, better Northwest that Congressman Simpson has championed in the Columbia Basin Initiative offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – not just for the salmon but for the energy, transport, and irrigation sectors as well,” stated Nez Perce Tribe Vice-Chairman, Shannon Wheeler.  “Salmon need a river now more than ever. With a warming climate, and with the resources and funding that a comprehensive framework like the Columbia Basin Initiative provides, this transition can occur in a way that salmon and all of the other sectors come out as winners.”

The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the Nez Perce Tribe recently co-hosted a two-day Salmon-Orca Summit. During the Summit Northwest Tribes emphasized their support for Congressman Simpson; for his leadership and the comprehensive approach to restoring the Lower Snake River and investing in the Northwest which the Columbia Basin Initiative legislative framework provides.

The National Congress of American Indians recently adopted a Resolution supporting restoration of the Lower Snake River and Congressman Simpson’s comprehensive Columbia Basin Initiative. The Resolution also calls on the Biden-Harris Administration to withdraw any federal court defense of the prior Administration’s 2020 Columbia River System EIS, BiOp, and ROD’s and other environmental decisions that are inconsistent with tribal environmental principles and priorities.