Salmo(n) River chinook salmon late 1930s.

Columbia River roundtable calls for ecosystem restoration

Slocan meeting wants citizens and governments to modernize the Columbia River Treaty and restore ancient fish runs.

Restoration of the historic Upper Columbia River salmon runs was just one of several objectives adopted by the Columbia River roundtable Canadian caucus, an ad hoc group of environmentalists from the East and West Kootenays that met in Slocan City recently.

Salmon and steelhead runs used to cross the Canadian border in the millions every year after migrating more than 1,500 km up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. But the mammoth runs came to an end in Canada after completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in the US in 1939.

Cessation of the ancient runs on what was once the greatest salmon river in the world was a devastating blow to aboriginal culture and well-being and a historic wrong committed against the aboriginal peoples of North America.

A recovery plan, developed by the Upper Columbia United Tribes and First Nations, will have one of its first unveilings at the Lake Roosevelt Forum in Spokane on April 21 and 22.

Columbia River roundtable members in Slocan. Photo submitted.

“The tribes and First Nations will be giving their first broad, public presentation of the plan at the forum and the roundtable is excited to hear what people think of it. The roundtable supports this plan,” said Gerry Nellestijn of the roundtable.

“We recognize the huge benefit that salmon reintroduction will give to Columbia River ecosystem function.”

Meanwhile members of the Canadian Columbia River roundtable caucus will continue the transboundary partnership with the American Columbia River roundtable caucus to restore ecosystem function to rivers that have been engineered for commercial benefits on both sides of the border: power production, flood control, shipping, irrigation and consumptive uses.

Fish species, mammals, water fowl and plant life that used to thrive when the river flowed free have been greatly impacted by storage and flow regimes dictated by the Columbia River Treaty.

The round table calls on citizens, businesses and other organizations in Canada and the US to support an “updated and modernized” Columbia River Treaty. The group’s six-point Statement of Principles suggests this could be done in a number of ways.

These include: restoration of ecosystem function on the river, creating resilience to climate change, reducing the harmful impacts of dams and reservoirs, restoration of salmon and other anadromous species, honouring and supporting the efforts of First Nations and Tribes to bring the river back to ecological health and meaningfully engaging all people affected by hydro-electric development in the Columbia Basin.

Typical spawning habitat for large Chinook salmon or steelhead in the Salmo (pictured here) or the Slocan River. Photo submitted.

An interim steering committee was also struck at the meeting consisting of Gerry Nellestijn, Ed McGinnis, Denise Dufault, Janet Spicer and David Reid, who will carry on the roundtable’s work for the next six months.

The group will work on strategic planning, researching alternative energy sources, funding issues, public outreach and strategies for reducing negative environmental impacts on the Columbia and the riparian lands surrounding it.

The group would also like to see the BC government “explicitly acknowledge” ecosystem function as an equal benefit to power production and flood risk management in the upcoming Columbia River Treaty negotiations.

For more information or to become involved contact Gerry Nellestijn at gerry@streamkeepers.bc.ca

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