Critics vow to continue efforts to remove Snake River dams

Snake River Dams

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Environmental groups are vowing to continue their fight to remove four dams on the Snake River in Washington state they say are killing salmon that are a key food source for endangered killer whales.

But instead of working with federal agencies, conservationists intend to seek removal of the dams through the political or legal systems.

Agencies of the U.S. government announced in late July that the four huge dams will not be removed to help salmon migrate to the ocean. That decision was finalized Tuesday in a so-called Record of Decision.

The decision thwarts the desires of environmental groups that fought for two decades to breach the dams.

“This is definitely not the end,” said Robb Krehbiel of Defenders of Wildlife. “I don’t see how this doesn’t end up in court.″

But he is also encouraged by signs that governors of Northwest states, particularly Democrats in Oregon and Washington, are looking for a negotiated solution.

“To say we need a new approach, that we need leadership from our elected representatives, and that we need to find a solution that works for all of us is to state the obvious,″ said Todd True, an attorney for Earthjustice.

The ROD was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, and sought to balance the needs of salmon and other interests.

The plan calls for spilling more water over the dams at strategic times to help endangered salmon migrate faster to and from the ocean, a tactic that has already been in use.

Dam critics have panned the Trump administration plan as inadequate to save salmon, an iconic Northwest species. They contend the dams must go if salmon are to survive.

“To us, the lower Snake River is a living being,″ said Shannon K. Wheeler, chair of Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe. “We are compelled to speak the truth on behalf of this life force and the impacts these concrete barriers on the lower Snake have on salmon, steelhead, and lamprey.″

The tribe will go to court, to Congress and to state capitols to find a way to restore the river, Wheeler said.

Scientists warn southern resident orcas are starving to death because of a dearth of chinook salmon that are their primary food source. The Pacific Northwest population of orcas — also called killer whales — was placed on the endangered species list in 2005.

The dams have many defenders, including Republican politicians from the region, barge operators and other river users, farmers and business leaders.