Saving an American icon

Removing four dams on the lower Snake River is essential to restoring salmon populations

Mr. Johnson is president of Monterey Fish in San Francisco.

Salmon are much more than a fish—they are an American icon, an integral part of our fishing heritage and the epicenter of our salmon economy. Our natural world—rivers, forests and wildlife—depend on wild salmon for their very existence.

Today, this irreplaceable species is threatened with extinction. Our wild salmon populations and the communities that depend upon them are in crisis. But we have hope.

A few months ago, the Obama administration made a bold move to protect our California wild salmon. Now it’s time they brought this same change to the Columbia-Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

As many as 30 million salmon once returned to the Columbia-Snake River Basin—making it the world’s most productive salmon river. But today, just 1 percent of these historic numbers remain. Because these fish roam the Pacific from Southeast Alaska to the waters of Monterey Bay, this collapse has devastated fisheries up and down the coast.

Salmon, if nothing else, are survivors—give them cool, clean water and they will return. Four federal dams on the lower Snake River kill the majority of Snake River salmon, limit river flow and raise temperatures for Columbia fish. These dams block access to hundreds of thousands of acres of pristine wilderness in the headwaters of the Snake River. This is biggest, wildest, highest and best-protected salmon spawning grounds left in the continental United States, a Noah’s ark for climate change. The science is clear that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the best, and perhaps only, option to protect and recover endangered salmon populations.

A 2008 plan (a holdover from the Bush administration) rolls back court-ordered protections; ignores the clear science of state, federal, and tribal fishery biologists; and redefines the jeopardy standard of the Endangered Species Act—weakening the core values of the law. We believe the Obama administration, had it been in charge, would have refused this plan, and we believe it should do so now.

America was founded on innovative and courageous ideas. We must use that same creativity in recovering this iconic species. We can remove these four dams, replace their limited energy with conservation and renewables, create and protect jobs, bring a modernized rail system to farmers and rural communities, restore 140 miles of free-flowing river and recover wild salmon. My way of life depends on this. And tens of thousands of others stand with me.