Rep. Derek Kilmer on Salmon Recovery

Dear Mr. Chadd,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the management of the lower Snake River dams, as well as the critical importance of promoting healthy and robust salmon and orca populations in our region. 

Like you, one of the reasons I enjoy living in our region is because I value the richness of our environment. Our oceans are diverse, incredible ecosystems with some of the most important creatures and organisms on the planet– including the orca, our state marine mammal. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the Pacific Northwest orca population has declined dramatically over the last 50 years. It is clear that our orca population is in critical condition and we must take immediate actions to help recover this iconic species.

Furthermore, I recognize that salmon recovery is both an environmental and cultural concern in Washington State—our home state’s economy and identity are directly tied to the health of our salmon. As you know, there has been an ongoing debate about the best course of action for managing the Columbia River System Operations  (CRSO), which consists of 31 federal dams including Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite, which are commonly known as the lower four Snake River dams. Recently, some environmental and wildlife groups that have long supported the removal of the lower four Snake River dams to help recover endangered salmon stocks have also suggested that removal of these dams could play a key role in recovering the Southern Resident Orca population.

I believe that in order to break the decades-long cycle of litigation over the operation of the lower four Snake River dams, we have to create broad consensus in the region about a path forward that is grounded in the best available science, honors tribal treaty rights, and reflects the cultural and economic values of our region. In my view, the process established by the four governors of the four states in the Northwest is the most constructive venue for that dialogue. I am firmly committed to working with folks in our communities and my colleagues in Congress to support that approach. The conceptual framework released by Representative Simpson offers a lot of substance for our regional stakeholders to consider as the four governors process gets underway, and I hope this framework will help initiate a productive dialogue on how to achieve our shared goals.

As these conversations continue, it is imperative that any future federal actions are based both on sound science and on consensus recommendations from impacted stakeholders. As these regional stakeholder discussions continue, I am firmly committed to working with folks in our communities and my colleagues in Congress to support that approach.

Moreover, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, I am committed to enhancing funding for programs that would support salmon recovery. In fact, I’m happy to share that this past year, we secured an increase in funding for the Puget Sound Geographic Program, which provides critical grant support to state, local, and tribal governments to implement projects to improve water quality and enhance fish passage and salmon habitat. Securing additional funding to restore the Sound is a big deal if we’re going to recover our salmon populations, and I was pleased to vote for the passage of this increase. Additionally, as a member of the Committee, I have worked to secure key funding increases in NOAA’s budget to help recover salmon stocks and support the commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries that depend on them, including funding for the implementation of the newly ratified Pacific Salmon Treaty, funding to support Mitchell Act hatchery activities, and funding to support communities impacted by recent fisheries disasters. I’ll keep at it!

As these conversations continue, I encourage you to keep sharing your views with me on this topic or any other issue. Thank you for reaching out. 

Derek Kilmer
Member of Congress

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