#MapMonday: Imagining a New Future for the Lower Snake River

In honor of Orca Month we’re imagining a new future for the southern resident orca and the salmon they rely on. This storymap envisions the opportunities that dam removal could bring about for these endangered species, local communities, and Tribes. Learn more at: https://dfnd.us/LowerSnakeRiverMap

Click to view video transcript Mae: Welcome back to another MapMonday!

An ancient Greek philosopher once said, “No person ever steps in the same river twice for it’s not the same river and they’re not the same person.”

Rivers are ever moving and changing and when they are healthy, they can provide endless benefits to human and wild communities. The Snake River of the Pacific Northwest historically produces millions of salmon and steelhead, nourishing tribal communities and the white settlements that came later. Today, this river also provides hydropower, irrigation, transportation, and recreation. However, since construction of major dams on this river,

13 stocks of salmon and steelhead were listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and they continue to decline. Local communities that depend on a healthy river and flourishing wildlife have been greatly impacted by the now flooded landscape. A free-flowing Snake River could help recover fisheries, restore economies, and support the people and wildlife that call it home.

Defenders of Wildlife created a storymap in collaboration with Save Our Wild Salmon to help communities envision the river corridor post-dam removal and the many opportunities it could bring. By looking at the river’s pre-dam past, we are able to map out its future. Satellite imagery and historical maps help us to see the natural hydrology of the river and envision what the river and its banks might go back to looking like. Amazingly, up to 14,400 acres of land that are currently inundated by water could resurface, bringing with them possibilities for new parks, boat launches, and other means for people to connect with nature.

While making the Snake River free-flowing again won’t come without challenges, there is much to gain from restoring the river: recovering endangered species, honoring Tribal uses, reconnecting with lost landscapes, expanding strong agriculture, recreation, tourism, and renewable energy industries. This storymap is meant to bolster the ongoing discussions surrounding Snake River management and tell the stories of the people and places impacted by the more recent declines in river health. This is an important conversation being had for iconic wildlife in the region.

To share more about this, here is our Northwest Program Director, Dr. Kathleen Gobush.

Kathleen: Salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest and runs that used to number in the millions are in extreme decline. It is not just unfortunate, it’s an environmental and cultural tragedy. And one that needs to be urgently reversed through bold and serious commitment, decisions and actions.

This story map helps us envision a future free-flowing Snake River one that provides for communities, Tribes, and wildlife, including the iconic and critically endangered southern resident orca. These salmon-dependent orca number just 75 individuals; and prey depletion of especially Chinook salmon is one of the biggest threats they face.

The latest scientific research demonstrates how important the Columbia Basin salmon stocks are to these whales especially in the winter and spring seasons when they are not in the San Juan islands and northern outer coast - what they are more known for. The decline of the southern resident orca is like a canary in the coal mine for this entire system, and way of life, that is centered on salmon in the region.

Shared understanding, creative thinking, and courage are needed to take the necessary steps forward to save our wild salmon. Back to you Mae.

Mae: Thanks to Kathleen and the Northwest team for all of your efforts to keep our waters and wildlife healthy and free! Check out the storymap to learn more and we’ll see you next MapMonday!

Mae Lacey
Previous Conservation GIS Analyst

As the previous Conservation GIS Analyst in the Center for Conservation Innovation, Mae provided support and leadership for geospatial product development across Defenders.