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Local groups protest dams

Activists and tribe members say dams harm wild salmon

Nez+Perce+Tribal+members+paddle+down+the+river+Saturday+afternoon+at+the+%22Free+the+Snake+Flotilla.%22
Nez Perce Tribal members paddle down the river Saturday afternoon at the

Nez Perce Tribal members paddle down the river Saturday afternoon at the "Free the Snake Flotilla."

RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

Nez Perce Tribal members paddle down the river Saturday afternoon at the "Free the Snake Flotilla."

ALEX LARSON FREEMAN | The Daily Evergreen

RACHEL SUN, Evergreen reporter

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Drumbeats and singing filled the air Friday evening at Chief Timothy Park in Clarkston as Nez Perce tribe members commenced the third annual “Free the Snake Flotilla.”

The Flotilla ran from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, with participants advocating for breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River — the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams.

Advocates say the dams endanger wild salmon and steelhead populations, and impose upon the treaty rights of the Nimiipuu tribe, better known as Nez Perce.
Lucinda Simpson, Friends of the Clearwater vice president, said the dams are harmful to American Indians that depend on the river for subsistence, but also negatively affect other people and animals.

“It’s not just the American Indian people that are involved in this,” Simpson said. “It’s people from all walks of life that this is affecting.”
Kevin Lewis, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, said the dams provide little benefit to taxpayers.

“Lewiston is a seaport. The problem is, it’s not much of a seaport,” Lewis said. “Barging peaked about 20 years ago, and ever since then it’s dropped steadily about 85 to 90 percent since its peak.”

Lewis also said the benefits of breaching the dams would outweigh the costs.

“We commissioned a study back in 2004 on the value of a restored wild salmon and steelhead fishery to Idaho,” he said. “It would be 544 million dollars a year, and this was in 2004.”

Participants came from the Nez Perce tribe and Palouse Band (a non-federally recognized American Indian group), as well as from Lewiston, Clarkston, Moscow and the surrounding area.

RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

A flotilla participant listens as an organizer speaks to the crowd of boaters on the water Saturday.

 

Palouse Band matriarch Carrie Chapman Schuster said Friday that getting the dams removed would be a long and difficult process.

“It’s going to be a great deal of sacrifice,” Schuster said. “That is why we are gathered here for you.”

Participants met Saturday morning to eat breakfast and listen to event speakers before launching boats at 10 a.m. Some Nez Perce tribal members brought drums on their boats, and others rowed in canoes alongside motorboats with giant salmon replicas attached overhead.

Others rowed in boats and canoes with signs reading “ditch the deadbeat dams,” “damn the dams” and “save the salmon.”

Members from environmental groups participating in the event said the dams are problematic for salmon not only because the they are difficult to navigate, but also because the stagnant water behind dams warms to lethal temperatures for the fish.

Julian Matthews, treasurer for Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment, said the warm water is especially harmful for young salmon, known as smolt.

“[The salmon] can only be in water that is a certain temperature,” he said. “A system has developed that is not good for the fish.”

Nimiipuu tribal member Art McConville said he spent most of his early childhood by the river. To him, salmon restoration is about a way of life.

“We lived off fish and fire-cooked bread made over the campfires,” he said. “I feel more at home at this river than I do anywhere else.”

Sam Mace, outreach director at Save Our Wild Salmon, said if the dams are removed, many endangered or threatened species of salmon on the Snake River would be able to bounce back.

“When communities come together and take out dams we don’t need anymore, we are seeing this huge turn-around ecologically,” Mace said. “Any recovery plan that is going to be effective has to have the removal of those dams as a cornerstone.”

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