Co-sign letter supporting Southern Resident Orca recovery
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Dear Lt. General Semonite of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Congressional leaders of the Pacific Northwest, Governors of the Pacific Northwest and Bonneville Power Administration,

We, the undersigned leaders of the Pacific Northwest, come together in deep concern over the survival of Washington’s iconic Southern Resident Killer Whales to urge the timely breaching of the four Lower Snake River Dams.

Consensus among researchers establishes that Southern Resident Killer Whales are facing imminent extinction due to the collapse of our region’s Chinook salmon runs. It has come to our attention that without bold salmon recovery efforts in key ecosystems across the Pacific Northwest, two of Washington’s most iconic wildlife species - the endangered wild Chinook . salmon and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale - will cease to exist. These two species are intrinsically linked, as Chinook salmon comprise more than 80% of the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ (SRKW) diet.

More than 50% of the salmon killer whales feed on along our coast come from our Columbia River. When the Snake River Chinook leave the mouth of the Columbia they spend 3-9 years in their rearing grounds in the ocean, traveling as far north as SE Alaska where around 1/3 of commercially-caught Chinook salmon originate from the Columbia. Once fully grown, these fish return to their spawning grounds of origin. Unfortunately, human-caused factors have drastically impacted the ability of Chinook to return, resulting in the precipitous decrease of the population. As this species migrates throughout the year, Columbia and Snake River Chinook continue to provide the most substantial food source for the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

At present, only 1.1% of Snake River Chinook smolt return to their spawning ground as adults, well below the recovery threshold of 4-6%. NOAA acknowledged in its 2017 Snake River Recovery Plan for spring/summer Chinook that its long list of planned salmon recovery actions are not adequate to ensure salmon recovery. We must boldly improve fish passage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in a 2002 Environmental Impact Statement, concluded that breaching the four Lower Snake River dams has the highest probability of meeting federal salmon recovery objectives. Results recorded by the National Marine Fisheries Service since 1999 have confirmed that breaching the four dams alone would likely lead to the recovery of fall Chinook and steelhead runs.

Starvation is the leading cause of death for Southern Resident Killer Whales. Nutritional deficiencies prohibits normal, successful reproduction. The death rate for Southern Resident Killer Whales is historically correlated with Chinook salmon shortages. Starvation exacerbates all other problems the orcas face. When the orcas are starving, they must burn their fat stores to survive. This releases previously stored toxins into their bodies, which leads to compromised immune systems and death. Additionally, malnourished whales are less able to cope with prevailing underwater noise.

The four lower-Snake dams provide limited energy, have a benefit-to-cost ratio of 15¢ on the dollar, and their removal would provide Washington State with additional jobs and funds through the expansion of 10,000 acres of agricultural land and $500 million worth of recreation opportunities.

The Pacific Northwest presently has a 16% oversupply of energy. In the year 2017, only two hours of power generated by these dams were utilized by Bonneville Power Administration customers.

By breaching the dams, we can save money and focus on the new economic opportunities that 140 miles of free-flowing Snake River and its productive riparian zone will provide. We support restoration and regeneration of flooded lands and a positive transition for the individuals and communities affected by breaching.

We are writing to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, and other Washington federal and state elected and agency officials to remove the earthen portions of the four lower Snake River dams via controlled hydraulic breaching within a time frame that reflects the urgency created by the imminent extinction of endangered salmon and SRKWs.

Sincerely,

Representative Sherry Appleton

Representative Shelly Kloba

Senator Kevin Van De Wege

Representative Mike Chapman

Representative Jeff Morris
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