Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Columbian and The Seattle Times. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
For the first time in 80 years, salmon are swimming in the upper Columbia River. Whether that plays a role in salmon recovery throughout the region or is simply a temporary and ceremonial achievement remains to be seen, but the event last week was significant for the iconic Northwest species.
Since Grand Coulee Dam was constructed along the upper Columbia in north central Washington in the 1930s — followed by Chief Joseph Dam about 50 miles downstream in the 1950s — salmon have not been able to return to their traditional spawning grounds. Both dams were built without fish ladders or other means for the salmon to return, effectively killing off the species in the area.
Last week, members of the Colville Confederated Tribes released 30 fish above the Chief Joseph Dam as part of a multiyear plan. “This is a good step in the right direction,” tribal council member Rodney Cawston said, according to The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review. “To right something that has been wrong for 80 years now.”
Tribal member Crystal Conant told OPB: “We haven’t had our salmon, and we haven’t had our ways. For 80 years, this has been taken from my ancestors. To be a part of the first people to put it back, it’s hard to even talk about without getting emotional.”
Despite all the discussion in recent years about salmon preservation throughout the Columbia River system, it can be difficult to comprehend the extent of the species’ role in the Northwest.
Grainy photos and videos from generations past show Native Americans reaping the abundant harvest as their ancestors had centuries before, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council reports: “Based on late 19th-century cannery records and Indian accounts, it is believed that some 10 million to 16 million adult salmon and steelhead returned to the river each year to spawn prior to about 1850.” Now, the return rarely tops 2 million per year.
Part of the reason for that is a series of dams throughout the Columbia River Basin. Those dams have provided cheap, reliable hydroelectricity and have fueled economic expansion throughout the region, but they have come with a cost.
“The salmon spirit, he’s been missing here for a while,” Colville tribal council member Darnell Sam said. “No matter what is thrown at us, or thrown at them, they seem to survive and they seem to keep coming.”
Now, tribal members believe, technology makes a sustainable salmon run on the upper Columbia a possibility. Officials say the area is fertile habitat for salmon spawning.
Among the advancements is the Whooshh fish passage — essentially a salmon cannon that boosts the fish over dams, made by Whooshh Innovations of Seattle. Early research suggests the system is more efficient than either traditional fish ladders or capturing and trucking salmon around dams, as has been done in some places.
For now, the return of fish above the Chief Joseph Dam is merely an experiment. But it could hold promise for the future of salmon in the Northwest and, by extension, the future of orcas that rely on the fish as their primary food source. It also holds promise for a culture that has existed in the region for thousands of years.
You have free articles remaining.
As Virginia Redstar, a Nez Perce and Wenatchee band member, said: “Our culture was put on hold. I just want people to know. I want people to remember. We’re here.”
Tap know-how to prevent firearm deaths
This month’s heartbreaking mass shootings have re-energized calls for Congress to strengthen gun control and regulation. Dishearteningly, proposals for how to do so appear to be cleaving largely along entrenched party lines.
There is a better way.
The mayors of Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Auburn and Lynnwood are among 254 mayors joining Democrats’ calls for the Senate to immediately convene and take up legislation that would extend background check requirements to private firearm transfers. Two such bills, HR 8 and HR 1112, passed the House in February with only a smattering of Republican support.
At the same time, there appears to be a growing GOP interest in so-called “red flag” laws which would allow police, with a court’s blessing, to temporarily seize firearms from people at risk of harming themselves or others. Many Democrats argue such powers, already in force in more than a dozen states, including Washington, would not be enough to effectively prevent gun violence.
For decades, “it won’t work” has been the go-to objection to background checks, age restrictions, bans of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines, and other gun-control measures. “It won’t work,” others say to suggestions that expanding gun ownership and rights could help keep people safe.
There is one way to settle this long-standing ideological stalemate: Fund research to figure out what does work. Fund research to uncover patterns and create meaningful interventions — which may or may not require changes to law. Treat gun violence as any other threat to public health, identifying risk and protective factors, designing evidence-based strategies and implementing them.
“We know how to do this,” says Dr. Eileen Bulger, professor of surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Chief of Trauma at Harborview. “We have to tackle the big picture, the 40,000 people that die every year in the country from firearm violence. We can’t forget them.”
Society has to tackle the problem comprehensively, considering the role of people, equipment and environment, said Bulger, one of 22 co-authors of the American College of Surgeons’ consensus recommendations to reduce firearm injury, death and disability. Enlist gun owners as part of the solution and focus on the “vast middle ground” between ideological extremes.
This is happening on a small scale through King County’s Shots Fired project, a collaboration between several local law enforcement agencies to better understand the circumstances of local shootings, gun-related injuries and deaths. The newly formed Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine will study similar questions statewide.
But a well-funded national research agenda is needed to curb our nation’s growing firearm-related death toll. Last year, Congress finally lifted a 20-year moratorium on funding of research that could potentially lead to gun-control legislation. This summer, senators received a fiscal year 2020 spending bill from their colleagues in the House that would allocate $50 million for gun-injury research. They should waste no time signing the check.