Today, the 1st of March, over a hundred people will begin a 236 mile march on the other side of the world. They will walk over a period of 23 days from Portland, Oregon, to the Ice Harbour Lock and Dam in Central Washington, in an attempt to put political pressure on governing bodies to breach the four lower Snake River dams this year.
Why would they want to do such a thing?
These dams, it is thought, kill over 8 million wild salmon a year, and prevent the adults from spawning. In doing so, they are not only pushing Chinook salmon towards extinction, but starving all the organisms that depend on them as a food source. Perhaps the most iconic of these is the Southern Resident Killer Whale – a subspecies of Orca, of which only 72 individuals remain. The numbers drop each year.
The Pacific Northwest is fast approaching an ecological tipping-point.
Other solutions have been tried; increasing spill (holes in the dam for salmon to pass), rearing and releasing salmon in hatcheries, closing US fisheries and undergoing habitat restoration, all to no avail. Salmon populations continue to plummit and orca numbers count down with a depressing regularity.
Breaching the dams would create a free-flowing river and Salmon would return to the Pacific Coast within 14-18 months. The main concern with this plan, from an environmental perspective, would be its impact on renewable energy generation. But the US Army Corps of Engineers found that the removal of the Dams would decrease emissions from transportation by 7 tonnes of CO2 per year, and that the increase in emissions from the power sector would be by less than 1%, and that estimate assumed that the power sources would be replaced by non-renewable energy. The loss of the dams can be compensated for by the adoption of other, less intrusive forms of renewable infrastructure. The loss of a species cannot.
Currently the dams are losing money – Bonneville Power Administration is borrowing $1.6 billion from the federal government over the next two years to maintain them. This, combined with the costs of currently trying to prop up salmon populations via other strategies may well make it a cheaper option in the long run and and one that would result in the creation of ~3000 jobs a year (e.g in fishing and recreation).
However, a federal report was released just this week rejecting the proposal to breach the dams as a solution to the salmon crisis, on the grounds that increase power costs and destabilise the energy grid. Instead they proposed more of the same alternative strategies. This is the 6th time that the federal government have proposed an operations plan to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act to protect salmon – and all the previous ones have been rejected in court.
There is a 45 day public consultation period, during which Coextinction, an organisation creating a film to raise awareness of the plight of the SRKWs and the need to breach the dams, will be marching in the US for their ‘March for the Dams’ Campaign.
In solidarity with them, I am organising a demonstration in London with several other young campaigners. On the 22nd of March, the final day of their journey and the date of their mass demonstration at the Ice Harbour Lock and Dam, we will gather at 11am in Cavendish Square in London to show international support for the breaching of the dams. Please join us and help to spread the message on social media. There are more details on our Facebook events page.
We’re hoping to have a really exciting speaker lineup, so keep an eye peeled for updates!
This march is just one of several worldwide taking place on the 22nd, and is, I believe, the first of what will hopefully be many international coordinated demonstrations unifying to tackle the urgent biodiversity crisis this year. It is vital that we give this problem the public attention that it deserves; the media spotlight has been scrutinising the climate crisis, but this equally threatening issue has been largely ignored.
So if you can join us, please do.
This isn’t just about saving a subspecies. It’s about saving an entire ecosystem.