“Extinction is not an option.”
That’s the headline on a statement released Thursday by the Quinault Indian Nation, as the tribe formally announced its opposition to a proposed dam on the upper Chehalis River.
The project is a response to massive repeat flooding that has submerged areas of Interstate 5 near Olympia. It would be constructed in the flood plain near the town of Pe Ell in Lewis County. The tribe says its opposition is based on scientific and technical analysis from the Washington State Department of Ecology. That analysis concludes that construction of the dam would result in catastrophic harm to several runs of salmon and steelhead.
The Quinault is the only tribe with treaty rights to fishing, hunting and gathering in the Chehalis Basin.
“We feel that this project would really be one of the last nails in the coffin for many of the species that exist in the basin,” said Tyson Johnston, Quinault vice chairman. “There’s been years of restoration and efforts going on to restore aquatic species, particularly with an emphasis on salmon. To have a project like this, it would really reduce the resiliency we’d see.”
Among the species expected to be heavily impacted or even driven to extinction are spring Chinook. That run of salmon is currently not listed as endangered and though it has seen drastic declines, it remains one of the best sources of the preferred prey for Puget Sound’s Southern Resident killer whales, which have been declining rapidly because of lack of food.
The tribe also notes that the proposed dam would provide flood mitigation more to the urban centers in the basin, such as Chehalis and Centralia, while neglecting the needs of more rural areas. They are advocating instead for a decentralized approach that would cater to the geographic needs of locations throughout the flood plain.