Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 28, 2020


Meg Townsend, (971) 717-6409,

Trump Administration Review of Columbia-Snake River Dams Fails to Protect Salmon, Orcas, Rivers

Dam Removal Left Off Table Despite Growing Scientific, Public Support

PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and Bureau of Reclamation today released the first step of a court-ordered National Environmental Policy Act review of the federal system of dams and reservoirs in the Columbia-Snake River Basin.

The review was supposed to detail all credible recovery alternatives for endangered salmon and steelhead. But instead it gives short shrift to the only viable alternative for saving salmon and ultimately orcas — removing the four lower Snake River dams.

“Instead of taking the one step identified by scientists as absolutely crucial for salmon recovery, these agencies failed our region yet again,” said Meg Townsend, an endangered species attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The science shows that pulling out the four lower Snake River dams is the only way to save Columbia river salmon and the Southern Resident orcas that depend on them.”

In May 2016 the U.S. District Court in Portland invalidated the federal agencies’ 2014 biological opinion for salmon and steelhead endangered by the federal dams and reservoirs on the Columbia-Snake rivers. This was the fifth consecutive analysis rejected by the courts since the 1990s.

Currently only 72 Southern Resident orcas remain. Orcas are starving to death as their primary food source, salmon, continue to face significant declines in the region.

The Columbia River System dams cut off more than 55% of salmon spawning and rearing habitat. Many wild salmon runs in the region have as low as 2% or less of their historic populations.

The federal government has spent more than $16 billion on regional salmon in the past two decades, yet has so far failed to recover any of the thirteen wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia Basin at risk of extinction today.

In a Feb. 11 letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor Kate Brown called for the removal of four dams in the lower Snake River as a better path toward restoring salmon runs in both states.

The Center is seeking to collect and submit 1 million signatures from those in favor of removing the four dams in the lower Snake River.

The court’s 2016 decision opened a door for a new model for salmon recovery in the region. Salmon and orca advocates hoped a new environmental impact statement would examine needed projects and investments, such as restoring the lower Snake River by removing its four federal dams.

“This inadequate review will only increase risk to salmon and orcas and cost and uncertainty for the people of the Pacific Northwest,” said Townsend. “These agencies are trying to get away with doing as little as possible, yet again. We need to stand together to demand that our political leaders take immediate action to remove the four lower Snake River dams before it's too late.”

Southern Resident orcas. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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