Why do the tribes want to bring salmon back above Grand Coulee Dam?

Answer: Since time immemorial, indigenous people in the Columbia basin sustained a way of life dependent on a healthy ecosystem. Salmon were, and continue to be, critical to the ecosystem and the physical and spiritual health of Northwest Indian tribes. Eighty years ago, Grand Coulee Dam cut off salmon from thousands of miles of habitat and the indigenous people who inhabit these lands. Reintroduction of salmon will reconnect fish, people and lands together — that is, restoring the health of the river and all life that depends on it. It will also locate hydropower-related mitigation to the area most affected, as well as benefit downstream fisheries and the ecosystem as a whole. Tribes are undertaking this effort to right historic wrongs. It’s time to bring the salmon back for the benefit of all.

Does the State of Washington support this effort?

Answer: The State of Washington expresses continued support for the phased approach to upper Columbia salmon reintroduction and as of January 2024 has committed over $6 million in funding to this effort. The state recognizes the benefits to ecosystem health throughout the Columbia River Basin and in the Pacific Ocean that recovery of salmon can provide, as well as the significant tribal and non-tribal cultural benefits of restoring salmon throughout their natural range in the upper Columbia. Washington recognizes the benefits to sport fishing in the current anadromous zone where adult salmon runs will likely increase, and in the upper Columbia where these species will be restored. Finally, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been and continues to be a key partner in the implementation of salmon reintroduction activities in the upper Columbia.

Is there good habitat for salmon in the blocked area?

Answer: Habitat evaluations for salmon were an important component of Phase 1 investigations. The work done showed there are hundreds of miles of streams with habitat that is available and suitable to support tens of thousands of adult salmon and millions of rearing juveniles.

Figure 1. Light gravel areas are Chinook salmon redds in the Spokane River.

The Tribes have confirmed habitat suitability through cultural and educational releases of juvenile and adult salmon to these waters. Transported adult Chinook salmon have been documented spawning in Lake Rufus Woods, the Sanpoil River, Tshimikain Creek, the Little Spokane River, the big Spokane River, with accounts even coming from Canada. In many of these rivers juvenile salmon have been collected, resulting from this spawning activity.

What is the P2IP?

Answer: The P2IP, or Phase 2 Implementation Plan, is a stepwise and scientifically adaptive approach to test the feasibility of restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia River basin. The P2IP was developed by the Upper Columbia United Tribes and is intended to be a tribally-led effort. However, significant collaboration and coordination with federal, state, regional, and local governments, as well as with NGOs and private industry, is underway in order to complete the P2IP. Five main objectives are outlined in the P2IP:

  • Establish access to sources of non-ESA Chinook and Sockeye donor stocks
  • Develop interim hatchery facilities to produce fish for feasibility studies
  • Gather data on key metrics specific to fish behavior and survival in the blocked area
  • Develop and test upstream and downstream interim fish passage facilities while maintaining current operations at blocked area hydropower facilities
  • Provide the data necessary for full-scale reintroduction and permanent fish passage 

How many fish will be moved?

Answer: The number of fish moved in any given year will vary depending on the run size of salmon downstream (quantity of surplus salmon) and the objectives of the experiments or studies being implemented each year. Initially, we began the program by trapping and hauling relatively small numbers of adult salmon (hundreds) to meet ceremonial, cultural and educational release objectives. As the program grows, we expect the number of adults and juveniles to increase into the thousands of adult salmon and hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon.  We also expect our efforts to be guided by the science-based recommendations coming from the phased reintroduction planning process which will evolve over time and adapt to previous lessons learned. 

What will salmon reintroduction cost?  

Answer: The total costs of reintroduction are not clear because the studies to determine feasibility and facility design and effectiveness have not been completed. Phase 1 planning efforts to-date have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Phase 2 studies are estimated to cost between $300 and $400 million, of which the majority of those costs will be associated with fish passage testing. If Phase 2 experimental releases and interim passage facilities show favorable results, then an important step at the end of Phase 2 will be to determine the preferred options and cost estimates for the final stage of full reintroduction.

Who will pay for salmon reintroduction? 

Answer: In September 2023, the Bonneville Power Administration and the US Government settled a lawsuit with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Spokane Tribe of Indians to fund and support the P2IP, of which will be led by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Bonneville committed $200m as base funding over the next 20 years, and appropriating agencies are required to seek an additional $100 million to support P2IP implementation.

In addition to the funds from the P2IP Settlement, the UCUT organization and its member tribes continue to seek other funding opportunities. Prior to the signing of the P2IP Settlement, the UCUT organization and its member tribes secured over $15 million for P2IP implementation. Those funding sources included the US Congress, US Bureau of Reclamation, NOAA’s Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the tax payers of Washington State (through the state budget), departments of the State of Washington, and others.

How will salmon reintroduction affect landowners and businesses upstream? 

Answer: The presence of salmon in the watersheds upstream of Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams won’t add any new regulatory burden. State, federal, and county laws already protect the water, stream channel and streamside vegetation in the blocked area for the benefit of plants and animals that already reside there. The UCUT have no interest in increasing the regulatory burden on upstream landowners or businesses in order to help with the reintroduction of salmon. 

To ensure this, UCUT and the Tribes have adopted several principles for Phase 2:

  1. Salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) will not be used for Phase 2 research.
  2. No material changes in the operation, maintenance, or configuration of the dams will be needed to support the reintroduction effort.
  3. Harvest rates for fisheries occurring downstream of Chief Joseph Dam will not be altered by the reintroduction effort

What salmon species will you use?

Answer: The Phase 2 Implementation Plan calls for testing the feasibility of fish passage and reintroduction for summer Chinook and Sockeye Salmon. These fish are not listed under the Endangered Species Act and they have healthy and productive sources in nearby downstream locations. By not using ESA-listed fish, the tribes (and state and federal partners) will have an easier path for obtaining fish to supply the efforts. The exact locations and numbers of fish from each location will likely vary from year to year based on the number of fish that return (which can fluctuate widely) to certain rivers and hatcheries. A scientific review of potential donor stocks and their risks and benefits was completed in 2017 and will be used to help guide the preferences for the reintroduction.

How will you get the salmon over tall dams?

Answer: There is uncertainty regarding the engineering and the specific kinds of fish passage facilities that may be needed to make the reintroduction successful. This important question cannot be answered until additional studies are completed in Phase 2. Certainly, in recent years, there have been encouraging advances in fish passage efficiency throughout the Columbia River and at tall, or ‘high-head,’ dams in other areas. We expect that some of the emerging technologies will be part of the solution.  However, it is important that we let the science guide the development of the unique fish passage prescription for each facility.

What happens to the existing fish populations? 

Answer: There are no plans to change fish management practices in Lake Roosevelt and Rufus Woods. Rainbow trout will still be stocked for local resident fisheries, activities to remove Northern Pike will continue and conservation programs for native fish, such as sturgeon, will remain in place. Continued co-management of resident fisheries will only ensure salmon have a healthy ecosystem to return to.

As a keystone species, salmon returning to the blocked area will contribute nutrients to aquatic, riparian, and terrestrial ecosystems. Aquatic insects, minnows and juvenile fish, otters, bears, eagles, and other animals – including people – will benefit from the presence of salmon in our rivers. 

Figure 2. An adult Chinook salmon that was foraged along Tshimikain Creek.

Reintroduction may pose a disease risk to native Redband Trout. A biological reality is that salmon have pathogens, and it is not possible to implement a reintroduction of anadromous fish without increasing the pathogen burden for resident fish. However, resident fish and salmon coexist throughout the Pacific Northwest and they co-evolved in this region for millions of years. Salmon hatcheries work hard to reduce the transmission risk and outbreaks of IHN and many precautions can and will be taken to reduce the likelihood of infecting wild populations of Redband Trout by salmon that are reintroduced to the blocked area.

Who benefits from salmon reintroduction? 

Answer: Restoring salmon to the upper Columbia River basin after an 80-year absence will benefit the entire region. Local tribes have an ancient and spiritual connection with salmon and feel the immediate benefit, even as initial numbers are small. 

Reintroduction will also improve the health of the entire ecosystem. After spawning and dying, the salmon will replenish the streams with marine nutrients, benefiting many freshwater organisms, including bears, eagles, otters, coyotes, aquatic insects, fish, vegetation, and trees. Restoration of upper Columbia fisheries will have major economic impacts for the region, as well as benefits as far away as Alaska where many Upper Columbia Chinook salmon are harvested. Restoring salmon to the Upper Columbia River will also increase the abundance of salmon in the Lower Columbia River, the estuary, and the ocean which will help to feed the many birds, fish, and marine mammals that rely on salmon as a food resource, including the endangered orcas.  

The recovery of salmon and associated fisheries in currently unoccupied habitats can have enormous economic benefits for the local communities and across the State of Washington. There will also be more salmon in the economically important fisheries in the ocean and the Columbia River. With larger run sizes, there will be local sport fishing opportunities in Lake Rufus Woods and Lake Roosevelt that would increase recreation opportunity and tourism, as well as bolster the economies these industries support. And direct revenue will come to the state via license sales and the injection of dollars to local businesses from visiting anglers. 

What is the NEPA process all about? 

Answer:  NEPA stands for the National Environmental Policy Act, it requires the federal government to thoroughly evaluate the potential effects of a project on the environment through a process that allows for public input.  The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), Bonneville Power Administration (Bonneville), and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), collectively referred to as Co-Lead Agencies, are leading the preparation of a programmatic environmental assessment (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for federal support of the Phase 2 Implementation Plan: Testing the Feasibility of Reintroduced Salmon in the Upper Columbia River Basin (P2IP).  Reclamation, Bonneville, and USACE need to consider and respond to the P2IP proposal developed by the UCUT tribes with respect to Federal actions, in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and authorities.  Once the NEPA process is complete the Tribes can implement the actions described in the P2IP using federal funding and federal facilities.

*What is the timeline for bringing salmon back to the upper Columbia? 

Answer: The tribes of the upper Columbia have been working to bring back salmon since the construction of the first dam in the region at the turn of the 20th Century. The process to do so has and will continue to require significant investments in technical, social, and political resources. With the initiation of the second phase of reintroduction in 2022, we can now see a path toward full reintroduction occurring within much of our lifetimes. And in fact, during the implementation of the P2IP we will be returning thousands of adult salmon and hundreds of thousands of juvenile salmon to the blocked area.

See Also:


Kalispel Tribe of Indians – Northern Pike Suppression

United by Water

The Value of Natural Capital in the Columbia River Basin

Answering the Call: UCUT Canoes Arrive at Standing Rock

Climate Change Workshop

Protecting Lake Coeur d’Alene

Coeur d’Alene Tribe Forest Carnivore Survey

UCUT Video Gallery

Canoe Journey and Gathering at Kettle Falls

Fish Reintroduction into the U.S. And Canadian Upper Columbia River

Upper Columbia River Basin Fish Passage and Reintroduction Project – Phase 1

Treaty Talks: A Journey up the Columbia River for People and Salmon

Columbia River Listed among Most Endangered Rivers of 2015

20 Year Report

United for the Benefit of All

Grand Coulee and the Forgotten Tribe

UCUT and Bonneville Power Administration Partnership

Tribal Salmon Management, Harvesting and Sharing

Forests and Fish Report

Drumheller Springs Natural Park

Pow Wow and Community Outreach