In summary

Yurok Tribe and other organizations in California and Oregon are fighting to remove four Klamath River dams and restore the salmon runs.

By Frankie Myers, Special to CalMatters

Frankie Myers is vice chairman of the Yurok Tribe, fmyers@yuroktribe.nsn.us. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, many Americans are starting to realize how fragile our economy and social safety nets really are. 

Many people face economic uncertainty and food shortages for the first time in their lives. For Indians, confronting economic uncertainty and food shortages has been part of life since Europeans arrived in our lands. We have known for a long time that in order to survive, we must prioritize the protection of our salmon, acorns, mushrooms, eels and the hundreds of other sources of food and fiber in our environment. 

This is why the Yurok Tribe is fighting so hard to remove Klamath River dams and restore the salmon runs that have fed our people since the beginning of time.

We acknowledge that you don’t have to be native to understand how important subsistence foods are, especially in a time of crisis. Most rural people, regardless of ancestry, appreciate that hunting, fishing and gathering are important to their family’s food security and good health.

Right now, the attention of lawmakers is laser focused on the current COVID-19 crisis, and rightly so. But we can’t afford to relax environmental laws or lose momentum on important environmental restoration efforts at this critical moment in history. 

Right now, it is safer for my family to gather acorns and fish than it is to go to a grocery store. However, if we don’t continue to protect and restore our rivers and forests, our food insecurity will only worsen as pandemics and other catastrophes inevitably arrive in the future to put ever more stress on food distribution networks.

Our emerging success story on Klamath dam removal has been largely buried amid COVID-19 news coverage. For decades, tribes and our allies have made the case that river restoration and healthy fisheries are important to ensure food security in the Klamath’s rural communities. Ironically, even irrigated agriculture benefits from dam removal. 

It’s simple to understand. These dams provide no irrigation deliveries and their removal will yield healthier and more abundant salmon fisheries. The more abundant the salmon, the fewer restrictions there are on agricultural water use.  

While much work has been completed to advance Klamath dam removal, we now await a key procedural decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC must approve the transfer of ownership of the dams from PacifiCorp to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which will in turn dismantle the structures. PacifiCorp, California, Oregon, tribes and many non-governmental organizations have weighed in to support the license transfer. You can too by going to ReconnectKlamath.org and clicking the action alert for details. 

As we all take great precautions to protect our families during this dangerous and unprecedented health crisis, we should also plan for future crises and the next time we will appreciate a hearty meal provided by a healthy watershed. 

_____

Frankie Myers is vice chairman of the Yurok Tribe, fmyers@yuroktribe.nsn.us. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: gary@calmatters.org, (916) 234-3081.