Priority Campaign 2024

Lower Snake River Dam Removal

Snake River

The Conservation Alliance harnesses the power of businesses and outdoor communities to protect North America’s cherished wild places and outdoor spaces. Through the collective strength of our membership – companies from banks to breweries and outdoor gear – we champion solutions that balance the best interests of the land and water, wildlife, and people. Since 1989, we’ve helped protect 81 million acres and 3,580 river miles, remove or halt 37 dams, purchase 21 climbing areas, and designate five marine reserves.

In 2023 and 2024, we are investing additional advocacy resources in six priority campaigns. Each campaign is focussed on natural resource conservation, adapting to a changing climate, recognizing the rights of Indigenous communities, and protecting habitat in places that are also valued for human-powered recreation. We announce our Advocacy Priority Campaigns once a year. In collaboration with our grantees, we work to identify land and water conservation opportunities that are urgent, vital, and need national attention.

Lower Snake River Dam Removal

What’s at stake? 

Before the construction of federal dams in the Columbia and Snake River Basin, millions of salmon and steelhead returned to these rivers each year. Fisheries in the Snake River crashed after the construction of Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite Dams on the lower Snake River in the 1960s and 1970s. Billions of dollars have been spent to recover these fish, but recovery efforts have not succeeded.

The four dams on the Lower Snake River have disrupted native salmon and steelhead habitats for decades, causing rapid species decline and significantly impacting the subsistence fishing rights of Native communities, and the recreational fishing industries of the Pacific Northwest.  

In addition, Northwest Tribes have been cut off from the salmon they were promised in treaties with the United States. These Tribes also lost access to culturally significant sites and fishing spots when the reservoirs raised the water level and flooded nearby land. We are at a crossroads where we have a unique opportunity to take bold action to restore our salmon and steelhead or lose them forever.

What’s the solution?

A locally-driven coalition is working hard to advocate for solutions that will give these fish a fighting chance to survive, honor commitments made to Columbia and Snake River Tribes, and set the Northwest on track to invest in alternative methods of clean energy, transportation, irrigation, and recreation opportunities. 

Restoration of this incredible watershed would supercharge outdoor recreation and economic opportunities in the basin. For example, restored Columbia Basin fisheries would generate $1B annually in personal income and support 25,000 family wage jobs. Salmon/steelhead guiding generates $180M each year in Idaho alone, supporting 2500 guides in the state. Simply put, restoring these fisheries is good for the environment and will generate massive economic and job benefits. 

After decades of hard work, in 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a report, entitled “Rebuilding Interior Columbia Basin Salmon and Steelhead,” which concluded that removing the four lower Snake River dams as soon as possible is “essential” to avoiding extinction.

In December of 2023, the Biden Administration announced a historic agreement with the Six Sovereigns — a partnership between Washington, Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. This agreement includes federal commitments by the US government to advance the recovery of salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations throughout the Columbia River Basin and pause Snake River litigation. 

The Conservation Alliance and our partners support a new initiative created by the Six Sovereigns called the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative (CBRI), which creates a new, comprehensive roadmap for salmon recovery, including a call to replace the energy, transportation, irrigation, and recreation services provided by the lower Snake River dams, paving the way for a restored, free-flowing river. A free flowing river would honor previous commitments and treaty rights made to Tribes, revive salmon and orca populations, bolster outdoor recreation opportunities around the river, and ultimately enhance local economies. 

The Conservation Alliance is committed to working with its member companies, partner organizations, Tribes, and key stakeholders to advocate to Congress and the Biden Administration for a solution that:

  1. Leads to the recovery of native fish populations and their habitat; 
  2. Supports Tribes and communities dependent on the river and its resources; 
  3. Ensures reliable and affordable renewable energy generation for Pacific Northwest communities while making sure the irrigation and transportation needs of nearby farm businesses are met; and
  4. Improves recreation opportunities and supports the outdoor recreation economy throughout the region.

The US Government’s commitments create a pathway to replace the services provided by the dams and allocate money to salmon protection and Tribal energy projects. Ultimately, dam removal requires authorization passed by Congress and we plan to work hand-in-hand with the federal government to deliver on their promises to local communities and our business members.

Who is The Conservation Alliance’s partner?

We are supporting the Idaho Conservation League and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association with grant funding for this project. We are working closely with NRS, Patagonia, and other members to advocate for a healthy Snake River.