Demand Action to Save Starving Orcas!

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2.44% Complete

Sponsor: Defenders of Wildlife

Revise the Columbia River System Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement to save salmon and orcas

Southern resident orcas are starving to death in the Pacific Northwest. They need us to act now!

Outdated dams on the lower Snake River have cut off Chinook salmon populations from their spawning routes for years - the same salmon that southern resident orcas depend on to survive.

We've watched those orcas suffer and die, unable to find enough food to support their calves or themselves. Now, only 72 southern resident orcas remain.

Scientists estimate that a plan to remove these dams would restore up to 1 million salmon - the most of any project currently being considered to help these vulnerable Orcas. But that plan faces major resistance from a new federal agency report.

Don't let orcas continue starving to death: Sign to demand federal agencies save salmon and orcas by removing old dams on the lower Snake River!

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The Petition:

Dear Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, & Bureau of Reclamation:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). I am writing to express my support for breaching the four lower Snake River dams, which is a critical action to recover key salmon runs that highly endangered southern resident orcas rely on.

I am very disappointed that the DEIS failed to fully or accurately consider southern resident orcas. The DEIS continuously states that Snake River salmon runs are not important to the orcas. This is patently false. The country's leading southern resident orca scientists have clearer stated that the four lower Snake River dams must be breached if we hope to prevent the extinction of these orcas. According to a study by NOAA and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, two of the ten highest priority salmon runs for the southern residents are Snake River runs. Historical evidence suggests that prior to the Snake River dams being built, there were more Snake River salmon and these fish likely constituted a larger portion of the orcas’ diet.

It is also important that we protect and restore salmon runs throughout the orcas' seasonal range. Typically, the southern residents forage for salmon off the west coast of the U.S. in the winter and spring. According to GPS data from NOAA, they spend a considerable amount of time at the mouth of the Columbia River foraging for salmon returning to both the Columbia and Snake Rivers to spawn. Despite the scientific consensus that orcas rely on Snake River salmon and the hundreds of thousands of comments the agencies received about orcas, there were roughly two paragraphs about the orcas in the entire 7,584-page document. I strongly urge the agencies to update this section of the DEIS and reevaluate the impact of all the alternatives on southern resident orcas.

Scientists from the Fish Passage Center have stated that breaching all four of these dams would result in roughly 1 million adult chinook salmon returning to the mouth of the Columbia River, providing a significant and important source of food for endangered southern resident orcas. These orcas primarily eat Chinook salmon and forage for these fish from central California into the Salish Sea. The Columbia basin supports salmon runs that the orcas have relied on for centuries. Historically, half of all the salmon returning to the Columbia Basin were bound for the Snake River.

With climate change, the number of days where temperatures will reach lethal levels in these reservoirs are expected to increase. Independent research has stated that removing these four dams would ameliorate this hot water problem. By removing these dams, we can increase salmon access to over 5,500 miles of free-flowing. climate-resilient, federally protected spawning habitat in Central Idaho.

While there are several actions we need to take to recover southern resident orcas, breaching the four lower Snake River dams is the most significant and important action the federal government can take to restore a significant and critical source of food for these endangered orcas. With only 72 orcas left in the wild, there is little time to act and prevent their extinction.

Breaching these four dams was evaluated under Alternative 3, but its analysis was incomplete and inaccurate. It is important that any dam breaching action be coupled with a package of infrastructure investments to support local communities and economies transition. This includes expanding rail lines, extending irrigation lines, installing renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency. Through forums like Governor Inslee's Lower Snake River Stakeholder Process, people identified the types of investments needed to support local communities after the dams are breached. The DEIS ignores these important conversations.

The agencies also failed to fully analyze the economic benefits of dam breaching, particularly for tribal, commercial, or recreational fishing businesses. When discussing the costs of replacing the energy from these dams with other renewable energy sources, the agencies grossly over-estimated the costs. A report from the Northwest Energy Coalition shows that through strategic investments, the energy produced by these dams can be replaced at a miniscule cost to ratepayers while also improving the reliability of the electrical grid. The DEIS also did not accurately assess the projected costs associated with maintaining the four lower Snake River dams.

I strongly encourage the federal agencies to revise the DEIS and conduct a more extensive assessment of breaching the four lower Snake River dams. The agencies should also greatly expand the section on southern resident orcas, and these whales are projected to greatly benefit from an increase in Snake River salmon. As written, the DEIS does not provide a complete or accurate assessment of the feasible alternatives for the lower Snake River. We need a new path forward that brings stakeholders together to identify solutions that support farmers, anglers, tribes, clean energy, and endangered wildlife.

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