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  • Writer's pictureMadison Churchill

March to Breach the Lower Four Snake River Dams

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Every year, the lower four Snake River Dams kill upwards of eight million juvenile salmon, many of which are endangered Chinooks. This has detrimental impacts on the salmon populations as well as our endangered Southern Resident Orcas who need them to survive. Starting March 1st, 2020, orca-protector Gloria Pancrazi and a number of others will be marching across the state to bring global attention to breaching these dams.

Native salmon are the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest. They provide nourishment to the orcas, birds, bears, wolves, pinnipeds, and so many other species that make up our incredibly diverse PNW ecosystem. When they decompose, their bodies give life to the trees and algae which give us oxygen. They create lush biodiverse forests bordering our rivers and streams. Our marine and land ecosystems are closely intertwined with the health of our spawning salmon. Native salmon historically have strong ties to the everyday lives of native Salish Peoples and today continue to hold strong cultural significance in the lives of Native Communities. Salmon are a symbol of the Pacific Northwest, but they are in trouble and need our help.

The Snake River dams once provided electricity to the surrounding areas, but now are generally underproductive and unused. The amount of electricity they produce today is quite minimal compared to the consequences they provoke. The dams cost taxpayers an astronomical amount of money to upkeep, while simultaneously decimating our native marine ecosystem. Not only do these dams kill around 50% of juvenile salmon, but these salmon will then never go on to lay eggs and repopulate. The dams also keep adult salmon from spawning, meaning they are unable to travel upriver to lay their eggs for future generations. Essentially, these dams are leading to the rapid extinction of one of our keystone species.

The most viable solution to save the fish and the orcas is to breach the dams, and that’s what PNW Protectors’ Gloria Pancrazi hopes to show through her march. Thousands of phone calls and letters were sent to Governor Jay Inslee’s office in 2019 demanding the immediate breach of these dams. It is now 2020 and Gloria and Morgane Trussardi, a French activist known as Little Gypsy, are taking matters into their own hands by leading this march in protest. Gloria and her group will spend most of the month, about 22 days, marching from Portland to the Ice Harbor lock and dam, concluding with a peaceful protest at the site. She hopes to inspire others to fight for these salmon and orcas, and show us that bringing people together has the potential for huge growth.

As Gloria says, “We don’t get anywhere with hate, but our togetherness will create a voice that cannot be ignored.” Her commitment to breaching the dams stems from a deep love of the Southern Residents. Unlike Transient orcas, the Residents rely on salmon as their sole source of food. About 80% comes from endangered Chinooks. These gentle giants have a very limited selection of food, so the health of native salmon runs are crucial. The orcas’ survival closely parallels that of the Chinook salmon. Put simply, if nothing is done immediately, this will lead to co-extinction of both species.

So, it only made sense for Coextinction to be the title of the documentary Gloria is making with a dedicated group of orca conservationists. She began her journey to save the orcas long ago, but her commitment intensified during the production of this documentary. Now, with this march, her voice will be heard around the world, and she hopes to inspire as many people as possible to stand in solidarity with these whales.

Gloria works to educate people about the Southern Residents through her work at Coextinction and PNW Protectors. Education is one of the strongest vessels for activism and ensuring sustainable future actions. The orcas she’s marching to protect are part of an incredibly intelligent and closely woven family unit. They have an entire section of their brain solely dedicated to empathy. It is thought that their family ties and ability to relate to one another may even be stronger than that of humans. They are acutely aware of their situation, and go through incredible emotional stress when they lose a family member, much like humans do. We saw a painfully clear display of this emotional capacity last year when the world heard the story of Tahlequah the orca and her calf. At PNW Protectors, we aim to be the voice for the voiceless, and to help save this species before it’s too late. Now down to just 72 whales left, the time is now.

So, with this march being only a couple weeks away, we are asking for help in whatever capacity you can. If you are able, come march. For a day, a week, or the whole month. If you are unable to come join, we ask that you share with friends, family, influencers, and anyone you can to help get the word out. The more attention this march gets, the more effective it will be in getting these dams breached.

Call and send letters to Governor Inslee’s office as well as the Army Corps of Engineers to tell them you want to see the dams breached in 2020, and that you support the march.

Educate yourself, your family, and your friends about the plight of the Southern Residents. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to take a stand.

Lastly, all donations made will help to provide food, lodging, and essentials for the journey, and are deeply appreciated. We have reached a tipping point, in which the health of our entire PNW ecosystem hangs in the balance. Help us to show the world that we will not sit by and let these orcas go extinct. Stand in solidarity with us, and with the whales. Our togetherness is the strongest tool we have.

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