Salmon have filled the rivers of the Pacific Northwest for millenia.

But in recent decades, Northwest salmon populations have plummeted. Biologists estimate about 1.3 million fish will enter the Columbia River this year to begin their upriver journey to spawn. This is higher than last year, but just over half the 10-year average of 2.2 million, and a fraction of historic returns.

Some of those fish will make their way through all eight of the Columbia and Snake River dams to the Wallowa River. Twenty years ago, getting there would have only been half the challenge. Upon arrival, they would have found few suitable places to hold and spawn. Today, thanks to the efforts of many, there are numerous miles of restored habitat in the Wallowa, Lostine and Imnaha River watersheds.

That restoration will continue this summer with work to improve spawning habitat for Chinook and steelhead on a 1,300-foot stretch of the Wallowa River. That project recently received funding from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB), and most of the funding for the project came from the federal Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund.

OWEB receives funding from Oregon Lottery dollars, salmon license plate revenues and the federal salmon recovery fund. Congress started the recovery fund in 2000 precisely because of plummeting salmon populations. In Oregon, the fund makes up about a quarter of OWEB’s budget.

Since 2000, the fund has invested nearly $237 million in Oregon to support salmon recovery projects. Leveraged with the state’s money, OWEB has been able to invest nearly $603 million on habitat protection and restoration for salmon and steelhead species throughout the state. The funds are granted to tribes and states doing worthy projects in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

That money has been put to good use, but for the third straight year, the administration proposed eliminating it entirely from the federal budget. The last two years, Congress has successfully restored funding. We urge Oregon’s congressional delegation to find a way to do it again.

Salmon are a critical part of our watershed, economy and culture. We need to continue to work for their future. Now is not the time to give up on salmon recovery.

Jess Steele is the Interim Executive Director for the Grand Ronde Model Watershed

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