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Don’t Let Orcas Be Dammed!

 

 

Southern Resident orcas need salmon snacks!

A love of snacks – the one thing that all people and living things can agree on!

Orcas are no exception! They love snacking on Chinook salmon so much that these salmon actually make up most of their diet. Unfortunately, the orcas are running out of salmon snacks because of dams on the Snake River and they are hangry about it.

Will you sign the letter with us to help the Southern Resident orcas?

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The Bad News:

The people (federal agencies) in charge of managing these dams are taking a look at different actions that would help salmon and orcas, but they are missing some pretty big piecies of information about Southern Residents.

We wrote them a letter to let them know what they got wrong and what they need to do to help salmon and orcas.

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The Good News:

*You* can make your voice heard and tell these people in the government what they got wrong! By letting them know, you can help Southern Resident orcas, salmon, and communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Join us by signing your name below! Help us reach our goal of 1,000 signatures!

What's in our letter:

  • Science supporting how much Southern Residents orcas depend on Chinook salmon (federal agencies did not consider in their review). - orcas need their salmon snacks!
  • Information confirming the importance of Chinook from the Columbia River Basin to the orcas. - orcas need these particular salmon!
  • Support for actions to maximize salmon survival – including breaching the four Lower Snake River dams - the salmon need to stay alive so orcas can eat them!
  • Recognition of the need for continued support the Pacific Northwest region in restoring a healthy Snake River and wild salmon runs - a healthy ecosystem = healthy salmon = healthy orcas!

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Full letter:

Dear U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bonneville Power Administration,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Columbia River System Operations (CRSO) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). I am writing specifically out of concern for the endangered Southern Resident orca population, a unique community of fish-eating orcas that lives off the west coasts of the U.S. and Canada. The DEIS fails to adequately address the connection between Columbia and Snake River salmon and Southern Resident orcas, and the impact that declining salmon abundance has on their survival.

As salmon specialists, the main component of the Southern Resident orcas’ diet is Chinook salmon, and they have depended on the region’s historically abundant Chinook runs for millennia. [1] The Columbia Basin is still a significant source of food for Southern Resident orcas, particularly in the winter and early spring when the orcas are foraging in coastal waters. They are highly likely to be off the mouth of the Columbia River, recognized as a “high use foraging area,” when early spring Chinook are returning. Analysis of prey and fecal samples collected from the Southern Residents orcas in coastal waters indicate that over half of the Chinook consumed are from the Columbia River Basin. [2]

As Chinook salmon abundance has declined throughout the Pacific Northwest and California, the orcas have suffered. Scientists have found a strong correlation between coastwide Chinook abundance and Southern Resident health indicators: declining Chinook abundance leads to reductions in growth rates, adult length, social cohesion, fecundity, and survival, as well as impaired body condition in Southern Resident orcas. [3] It is clear that the orcas do not have enough to eat, that nutritional stress has severe impacts on the population, and that recovery of Columbia Basin salmon is essential to ensure their survival.

Independent salmon scientists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and this DEIS itself have all determined that breaching the Lower Snake River dams is the best way to recover sustainable wild runs of Snake River spring/summer Chinook salmon. [4] However, the Preferred Alternative offers only a minor adjustment to the status quo, which will not be enough to recover endangered salmon or orcas. Therefore, to support the recovery of the endangered Chinook salmon stocks that Southern Resident orcas rely on, the action agencies should implement measures that maximize salmon survival – a combination of Alternative 3, breaching the Lower Snake River dams, and Alternative 4, implementing flexible spill levels up to 125% Total Dissolved Gas throughout the migration period for juvenile salmon. These measures are predicted to result in the greatest improvements in salmon survival and have the highest likelihood of meeting recovery goals for endangered salmon, resulting in increased abundance available to Southern Resident orcas.

This action must be accompanied by continued support and investment in salmon recovery and habitat protection and restoration throughout the range of the orcas. Efforts by state and federal leadership are needed to develop and implement a transition plan to support communities that currently rely on the Snake River dams, and to replace them with carbon-free energy alternatives.

The Southern Resident orcas face a multitude of threats, but a lack of Chinook salmon is the primary limiting factor for their survival and recovery. They need abundant and available food – high-fat and nutritious Chinook salmon – year-round. Breaching the Lower Snake River dams is a vital step for restoring abundant salmon in the Pacific Northwest to support Southern Resident orcas, and rebuilding a healthy watershed to support regional ecosystems and communities.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Sincerely,

Your name here!

MORE INFO

What's happening here? 

A plan for the future management of federal dams in the Columbia River Basin, including four dams on the lower Snake River.  One option includes breaching those dams.  This plan follows five previous management plans that have been rejected by federal courts as inadequate for protecting endangered salmon.

Southern resident orca

This affects Southern Resident orcas? 

You bet! The Southern Residents rely on abundant and available salmon throughout their range to survive.  Without enough food, the orcas are suffering – they are skinny, more susceptible to illness and stress, and are struggling to give birth to healthy calves.

The Columbia River Basin was once home to the biggest runs of Chinook salmon in the world, with about half of those salmon returning to the Snake River.  Restoring the Snake River is one of the most significant things we can do to help recover those salmon quickly, and provide much-needed food for Southern Resident orcas in their coastal habitat.

Southern Resident orcas

What’s different this time?

A federal judge has ordered breaching of the four Lower Snake River dams to be considered as an option in this review, and there is more science available now than ever before showing just how important Columbia Basin salmon are to Southern Resident orcas.

For even more info...

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