Background image of young salmon crowd group around clear plexiglass in a pipe


Turning a new pageon Columbia Riversalmon recovery

This week, federal plans for salmon recovery were rejected for the fifth time. Now is the time to craft a new story about their restoration.

This week, a U.S. District Court invalidated the federal government’s plan for recovering endangered salmon populations in the Columbia and Snake River systems. Unambiguously siding with plaintiff conservation groups, clean energy advocates, the Nez Perce Tribe, fishing businesses, and the State of Oregon, the Court cited the “perilous state” of salmon despite many billions of dollars spent, over decades, on everything to save them — other than what might actually save them. In its concluding statement, the Court wrote that the system “cries out for a new approach“.


For more than a century, fisheries managers have placed their trust in a suite of increasingly creative, expensive, but ultimately ineffective alternatives to salmon swimming up and downstream. They supplant traditional cycles of reproduction and death by raising salmon in concrete tanks, piping them from reservoirs behind dams, implanting them with tracking devices, transporting them in trucks, feeding them in offshore pens, harvesting them in labs, pasteurizing and scattering their remains in forests and streams starved for missing nutrients. Fiberglass orcas deployed in the Columbia go belly-up and get rescued, while endangered orcas in Puget Sound go belly-empty and ignored.

Enough, already.

Although the Court has declared the government’s strategy as illegal as it was illogical, nothing in the decision relieves us of the obligation to imagine, articulate, and actualize an alternative future. After 5 attempts to propose a credible recovery plan over the last 25 years – and 5 rejections – and as wild salmon populations continue to slide towards extinction, it is clear that neither a legislative nor judicial strategy alone is sufficient to the challenge.

It’s time for an entirely new story — about salmon, about rivers, and about our communities.

Ecotrust is a catalyst for radical, practical change — and we believe that restoring the inherent productive potential of the Columbia-Snake river system is just that. “Radical” in the context of the legacy of 125 years of treating salmon like an industrial agricultural commodity, whose protection could be ensured by its production. “Practical” in the context of massive regional power surpluses, gross deficiencies in the economics of the inland waterway, and a growing portfolio of case studies in which communities are collaborating to tell new stories insisting on renewal — through hundreds of projects to remove dams and restore habitat while accommodating agricultural interests and power needs on rivers like the Elwha, the White Salmon, the Klamath, the San Joaquin… and more.

At Ecotrust, we believe the “new approach” Judge Simon is calling for is within reach. An approach based on true respect — for the integrity of rivers and streams, for our commitments to supporting Native communities, for place-based economies, and for the salmon themselves.

We don’t have another 25 years to wait. Now is the time to get to work on the largest, most practically achievable fisheries recovery projects on Earth: restoring self-sustaining populations of Columbia River salmon by removing outdated dams and re-establishing the correspondence between the mountains and the sea.

We need your support to make this critical work possible—please make a gift today.

Feature photo by Steve Pettit.