Water pouring though the spillway at Ice Harbor Dam.

As Washington State leaders consider the feasibility of replacing the public services provided by the Snake River dams in order to save salmon, NOAA Fisheries—in a surprise move—released their own report declaring, “it is essential that the lower Snake River be restored by dam breaching.”

This bold conclusion follows analysis of wild Pacific salmon populations reliant on the freshwater habitats of the Columbia River Basin, including the Snake River, also taking into account salmons’ needs across all their habitats, from stream to marine.

The science-led report finds: “the common message is clear: salmon recovery depends on large-scale actions, including breaching dams, systematically restoring tributary and estuary habitats, and securing a more functional salmon ecosystem.”

Sixteen populations of salmon and steelhead once spawned in the Snake, upper, and mid-Columbia rivers. Four are now extinct, with seven on the endangered species list, including Chinook populations vital to the Southern Resident killer whales. The report calls for prioritizing populations at high risk of extinction.

The report’s authors note that while “the short-term outlook is grim,” hope yet remains. Despite historical overfishing, habitat loss and degradation, and a rapidly changing climate, most of these fragile populations continue to “demonstrate inherent resiliency…and respond positively when environmental conditions align favorably.” In fact, previous dam removals, and other habitat restorations have demonstrated how swiftly natural processes can be restored, with “increases in salmon abundance and productivity.”

As human threats continue unabated, the report calls for “rapid, concerted, system-wide actions” with climate change fast limiting the time horizon. Though the study’s authors stress, “the importance and necessity of meaningful actions is heightened, not diminished because of the impacts of climate change.” Whereas, “inaction will result in the catastrophic loss of the majority of Columbia River Basin salmon.”

The report calls for urgent, large-scale actions to save these salmon populations, and concludes that “the science robustly supports stream habitat restoration, dam removal, and ecosystem-based management, and overwhelmingly supports acting, and acting now.”

Now that’s a call we can get behind!