To Save Orcas, Save Chinook Salmon

To Save Orcas, Save Chinook Salmon

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Sometimes it feels wildly audacious to state something very complex so plainly that thunderclaps boom—or in this case, dams crumble that have held back river water for so long it almost feels inevitable. Steven Hawley and Michael Peterson simply state that to save the Southern Resident Orcas we must save Chinook salmon, and to save Chinook salmon we need to remove four lower Snake River dams that hinder salmon migration to the sea and their way back to spawning beds. They arrived at this stark conclusion after intensive research and work with many different groups of people who live along the path of the river. It was not a snap judgment but a crisp summing up, inescapable.

Questions abound, as they have since the dams were built. How will removing these dams impact power supply and costs to customers? How will wheat farmers in Idaho and eastern Washington move their harvest to ports for sale? What about all the other dams on the Columbia River? Don’t hatcheries and fish ladders and other methods mitigate for whatever salmon are lost because of the dams?

The cold reality is that Chinook salmon, upon which the orcas are heavily dependent in the spring season, are at near extinction. Their historic abundance has dwindled despite all the ways we have tried to compensate for the obstruction of the dams for their safe passage; they will wink out—that horrible phrase—in our lifetime. And their loss will also take the orcas. That unconscionable realization pushes back on all the other questions that feel like just so much noise. Hawley and Peterson begin with that harsh assessment and work back from there to the solution that promises the most hope: take out the offending dams.

To learn more and connect with others also wrestling with this urgent issue, the Olympia Film Society is sponsoring a showing of Peterson Hawley Production’s film Dammed to Extinction with a post-film Q&A on Thursday September 12, doors open at 6:30, show at 7:00. If you can’t make it downtown that night, you can also view the film at Save some of your questions and comments for the Annual Dinner in March when this film and the work behind it will be the topic of our keynote Speaker!  See you there!