General Project Information
Our main goal in our partnership with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission is to assist in creating a regularly occurring forum that allows for a productive conversation towards the betterment of salmon populations in the Columbia River Drainage Basin. CRITFC serves to protect the rights of the native Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribes, and salmon have always been an integral part of tribal culture, as they provide wealth, food, and a way of life. Unfortunately, salmon populations in the Columbia have declined for several reasons since the 1800s and have only recently started to slightly rebound. One reason has remained at the forefront of the salmon debate, which is the issue of dams, as they impede salmon migration resulting in declining numbers as well as habitat degradation. It is incredibly important that this conversation be among CRITFC, stakeholders with opposing interests, and also the general public in order to achieve a recovered salmon population.
The Columbia Inter-Tribal Fish Commission serves the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Warm Springs tribe by ensuring that salmon populations rebound, providing fisher services, sharing salmon culture, and protecting treaty rights; CRITFC’s first goal is specifically to “Put Fish Back in the Rivers and Protect Watersheds Where Fish Live.”
Salmon are a keystone species that over a hundred other species depend on (Hocking and Reimchen, 2002). Unfortunately, ever since the start of commercial fishing in the 1800s salmon populations have dwindled considerably, especially since the construction of hundreds of small dams before 1900 (Ferguson et al., 2011).
While dams produce enough electricity per year to power eight cities the size of Seattle, and provide jobs for many people in the region (Northwest Power and Conservation Council, n.d), they are a considerable threat to salmon. After spending up to seven years in the ocean, salmon swim upstream for hundreds of miles to spawn, and they transfer many important marine nutrients into terrestrial habitats during this migration (Hocking and Reimchen, 2002). However, this upstream migration is obstructed by dams (Ferguson et al., 2011). Dams not only serve as a direct obstacle, but they also inundate spawning grounds for salmon (Ferguson et al., 2011; U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, n.d). This inundation of spawning grounds, as well as the altered water flow and temperature created by dams has also lead to habitat degradation (Northwest Power and Conservation Council, n.d). Additionally, dams cause sediment to accumulate in their reservoirs and further degrade salmon habitat as coarse sediment is necessary for gravels that salmon need to spawn (Kondolf et al., 2014).
While the introduction of hatchery salmon has been thought to help rebound salmon populations, this has been based on a simplistic assumption that salmon “would increase in direct proportion to the number of eggs that survived a controlled environment” (Ferguson et al., 2011: p: 148). This is not true, as hatchery salmon and their wild-born descendants have much lower reproductive fitness, and they lose this fitness quickly (Ferguson et al., 2011). Ultimately, the interbreeding of wild and hatchery salmon can “dilute the gene pool of the remaining wild fish, even though the brood fish are carefully selected from indigenous stocks” (Northwest Power and Conservation Council, n.d).
Dam removal has been shown to be effective. After the removal of the Condit Dam in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific lamprey (an anadromous species similar to salmon) that were not present upstream of the dam before removal were shown to naturally recolonize the upstream river basin after the dam removal (Jolley et al., 2017). Dam removal can allow Pacific lamprey populations to reverse their population declines (Jolley et al., 2017), which is why their removal is important to not only help Pacific lamprey, but salmon as well.
The main goal our team has set our eyes on is how to create a regularly occurring forum about the Columbia River salmon controversy where different stakeholders have the chance to express their views and objectives while hearing conflicting ones. This would hopefully help the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which we hope to assist with in this project. We gathered feedback from others to better the focus of this goal and how we aim to achieve it. It helped us focus our sights greatly.
First, an important note we gathered was that a key limitation to successfully putting together this project in the future will be to achieve a real conversation amongst all actors. A forum with key stakeholders unable to express their interests and inquiries will not get much done. Implementing a structure where everybody is heard in a conversational manner will therefore be of great importance.
One way to integrate that feedback into our project, would be to find a professional moderator to moderate this forum. When discussing this with the group working with Portland Harbor Community Coalition, a member saw firsthand at a forum with PHCC how a professional moderator can help the flow of a conversation within a forum.
Another important note we received was the importance of including the public in these forums. This incentivizes more stakeholders to make themselves a part of it, as it would be detrimental for those stakeholders to have the public hear arguments without considering that missing viewpoint.
The next piece of advice given was to structure these forums with more than a month’s time in between so there can be a plan that is carried out to attain a larger outreach. The more people are there, the more successful our project will be.
There are multiple questions that we are considering but cannot provide answers to. This includes the questions of where student involvement fits in; we hope this fits into the planning phase of course, but do not know specifically, and would need to find a way to fit this into the forum itself. The question of how outreach will actually be conducted is extremely important to consider as well. Lastly, we will need to dwell on how to actually bring in opposing stakeholders, so that the forum can be as successful as possibly.