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Calling the Salmon Home to the Upper Columbia

On March 18-20, over 100 tribal, state, and federal leaders and staff members met at the Kalispel Tribe’s Northern Quest Hotel to discuss technical, cultural, social, institutional, and economic issues associated with restoring adult and juvenile fish passage to historical locations. The workshop was in preparation for the Future of Our Salmon Conference on April 23-24.

One of the workshop highlights for me was the cultural session. Topics ranged from the role of salmon in tribal cultures to the importance of restoring the land that supports us all. One speaker noted, “several Columbia River dams in Canada have legally binding agreements to add fish passage if Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph passage is ever added.”

Many of the presentations dealt with the lack of fish passage at Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, which blocks fish from returning to the Upper Columbia River. A Canadian First Nations leader told the attendees how, each year, they conduct a ceremony that includes knocking rocks together in the river to call the salmon home and to let them know that his tribe will be waiting to greet them when they can one day return.

There were several technical presentations that convinced workshop attendees that fish passage is possible at any dam. The question is no longer “if” salmon passage can be restored. It is really a question of “when” salmon passage can be restored.

I hope to see chinook and sockeye return to the upper Columbia River in our lifetime, not only to restore fish runs throughout the basin, but so our brothers and sisters to the north can once again fish for salmon in their own waters. I have no doubt that the tribes and First Nations will be the primary leaders in making this happen.