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The Little Goose Dam on the Snake River near Starbuck, Washington. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

By Jodi Helmer

Each year, millions of tons of grain make their way along what was once one of our wildest river systems, the Columbia-Snake River. Four dams — the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor — erected between 1955 and 1975, ease the way for massive barges bound for ports on the West Coast, and ultimately, markets in Asia. Soybeans, wood products, mineral bulks, and automobiles also travel the river by barge. But outnumbering all other cargo is the soft white wheat grown by farmers from 11 states.

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Fish Barges at Lower Granite Dam, one of the four Lower Snake River dams Earthjustice is fighting to remove. Northwest Power and Conservation Council / CC BY 2.0

A small group led by Republicans in Congress spearheaded a bill that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. If the bill becomes law, it could lead to the eventual extinction of wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers—iconic species in the Pacific Northwest that the federal government is required by law to protect.

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Sockeye salmon in Little Redfish Lake Creek, Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Idaho. Neil Ever Osborne / Save Our Wild Salmon

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with almost a dozen conservation and fishing organizations, the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon in their efforts to improve wild salmon and steelhead survival as the fish migrate to the Pacific Ocean.

Almost a year ago, in April 2017, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon ruled that federal dam managers on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have to meet higher spill requirements in the spring when baby salmon are migrating to the ocean—meaning they must allow more water to flow over the dams between April and mid-June, to help facilitate safe passage for young salmon.

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