You’ve seen many articles on salmon restoration efforts in the U.S. Northwest here in REVITALIZATION over the years. Much of the focus has been the ongoing debate over removing the Lower Snake River dams.
But quietly, behind the scenes, a senator from Washington state has achieved some major victories, resulting in an unprecedented $2.8 billion investment in salmon recovery and related ecological restoration via two bills that Congress seems about to pass.
Senator Maria Cantwell (Democrat) has used her position as the chair the U.S. Senate’s influential Commerce Committee to include over $2.8 billion for salmon recovery and ecosystem restoration efforts in the bipartisan infrastructure bill the Senate passed in August.
Although the visionary Build Back Better Act has been whittled down to half its original size by the anti-environmental “centrist” (AKA: “conservative”) wing of their party—such as coal industry investor Joe Manchin—even this pared-down version includes nearly $2 billion more for hatcheries, habitat restoration and additional research designed to better understand so many salmon are dying at sea.
This historic investment to support salmon restoration and resiliency was included in the draft reconciliation bill text released on October 28, 2021 by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which passed the Senate in August, includes another $2.855 billion investment in salmon and ecosystem restoration programs, as well as tens of billions of dollars for water infrastructure and environmental enhancements at existing hydropower facilities. These bills represent the single largest investment in salmon recovery in history.
“This historic multi-billion dollar coastal resilience and climate mitigation investment comes at a pivotal time and will result in real progress recovering salmon from the Columbia River Basin to the Puget Sound,” said Senator Cantwell. “By investing in programs ranging from habitat restoration to new hatchery production dollars to cutting-edge fisheries science, this package will help bring back iconic salmon to our region’s beloved waters.”
The reconciliation bill text released by the House includes the following salmon and ecosystem restoration funding:
- Salmon Habitat Restoration Grants: $1 billion for grants for Pacific salmon habitat restoration. This is the single largest investment in salmon habitat recovery funding in history. In Washington state alone, there is a backlog of more than $4 billion dollars in salmon habitat restoration projects.
- Restoring Habitat and Bolstering Coastal Resilience: $6 billion in new funding will support grant programs for habitat restoration and coastal resilience administered by NOAA. In Washington state, these funds will be used to restore coastal salmon habitat, construct living shorelines, fund community planning and resilience to help communities protect infrastructure impacted by climate change. This level of investment is crucial as the impact of climate change on coastal habitats such as eel grass, shellfish beds, rivers, and coasts is devastating salmon populations.
- Rebuilding Salmon Hatcheries: $400 million for a new NOAA program to boost salmon returns in state and Tribal hatcheries. These projects will expand existing hatcheries to increase salmon production, as well as construction new hatcheries. The science is clear: one of the top threats to Southern resident orcas is their ability to find their favorite prey, Chinook salmon. This funding will support orca recovery and access to prey, consistent with recommendations from the Orca Task Force. These hatcheries will also help protect fishing access for Tribal, commercial and recreational fishers and reduce fishing pressure on wild stocks. The bill also provides $19.6 million to further increase hatchery production by investing in Tribal salmon hatcheries through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- Better Salmon Science and Stock Assessments: $500 million for NOAA to boost fishery science by expanding stock assessments and fisheries research. This funding will help scientists finally identify the cause of salmon die offs at sea—which continue to be a mystery. These fish counts will help scientists understand how climate change affects salmon survival from warm water blobs to harmful algal blooms and ocean acidification. The funding also supports cutting edge tools to help fishermen monitor and reduce the accidental harvest of salmon.
The Senate-passed IIJA includes the following salmon and ecosystem restoration funding (all numbers are over 5 years):
- National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration Grant Program: $1 billion for the U.S. Department of Transportation to create a new program aimed at removing, replacing or restoring culverts, which will enable the recovery of salmon passage and habitats. This provision was authored by Senator Cantwell, and this program will be the first federal program devoted entirely to culverts.
- Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund: $172 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, a grants program that provides funding to States and Tribes to protect, conserve, and restore West Coast salmon.
- Fish Passage Barrier Removal Grants: $400 million for the creation of a new community-based fish habitat restoration program focused on removing fish passage barriers.
- EPA Estuary Programs: The National Estuary Program (NEP) is a network of organizations that protects and restores 28 estuaries around the country, including the Puget Sound and Columbia River Basin.
- $89 million for the Puget Sound Geographic Program.
- $79 million for the Columbia River Basin Geographic Program.
- $132 million for the National Estuary Program.
- $23 billion for the bipartisan Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, including $15 billion for Clean Water State Revolving Fund.
- $10 billion across multiple programs for monitoring and remediation of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals enter the environment through production or waste streams and are extremely difficult to remove. According to the EPA, they are known to have “adverse reproductive, developmental and immunological effects in animals and humans.”
- NOAA Habitat Restoration Programs: These funds will be used to enable communities, Tribes, and states to respond and adapt to climate change impacts.
$491 million for Habitat Restoration and Community Resilience Grants.
- $492 million for the National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund Grants.
- Supporting Recreational Fisheries and Conservation: Senator Cantwell authored the Sportfish Restoration and Recreational Boating Safety Act of 2021, which reauthorizes the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund. This fund supports $650 million annually in fishery restoration and conservation programs.
- In Washington state, the Trust Fund has supported the maintenance of 700 fishing access areas statewide, salmon and trout hatchery production, fish screen repairs, and fisheries sampling and monitoring.
- EPA Water Quality Programs: These provisions of the IIJA help improve overall water quality and prevent pollution to protect salmon-supporting ecosystems.
- The IIJA also includes significant funding for Tribal and rural water systems and would provide funding for stormwater and wastewater systems in Washington state and Puget Sound.
Throughout her time in the Senate, Cantwell has been a staunch advocate of protecting and strengthening critical salmon populations. Earlier this year, Cantwell secured commitments from Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to work on increasing investments in salmon habitat and prioritizing fisheries management. Cantwell also championed and passed the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act in 2019, which authorized an integrated and collaborative approach to addressing water challenges in the Yakima River Basin.
For years, Cantwell has led the fight to protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay – one of the world’s largest salmon fisheries – against the proposed Pebble Mine, emphasizing the devastation that the mine could bring to the Pacific Northwest. In 2020, the permit was denied and now Cantwell is now pushing for permanent protections under the Clean Water Act.
For over two decades, Cantwell has also led Senate efforts to protect the Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, from damaging logging. Nicknamed the “Salmon Forest,” the Tongass includes around 17,000 miles of free-flowing rivers and lakes that provide habitat for tens of millions of wild Pacific salmon and trout.
Public, private and tribal leaders lines up to vice their enthusiastic support for salmon recovery and ecosystem restoration:
Aja DeCoteau, Interim Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission: “The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission thanks Senator Cantwell for her leadership and work to significantly increase the funding available for important salmon protection and restoration work. For years, the tribes have leveraged funding from the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to restore hundreds of miles of rivers and streams throughout the Columbia Basin and the additional funding will allow even more of this important work to be done. We are also pleased to see support for the Columbia River estuary and the commitment to address our aging hatchery infrastructure. Protecting and restoring salmon and their habitat is essential for the wellbeing of the Columbia Basin ecosystem, tribal cultures that are based on abundant salmon runs, and the economies of communities throughout our region.”
Justin Parker, Executive Director of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission: “The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission is very grateful to Senator Cantwell for her hard work securing significant federal funding for salmon in the Build Back Better plan. These truly historic investments will help modernize hatchery infrastructure and accelerate habitat restoration at a time when we need it most. Climate change and habitat loss are putting immense pressure on salmon, which threatens our treaty-reserved fishing rights. We desperately need tools to adapt to a changing climate and build resilience. Senator Cantwell’s efforts will help provide these critical tools and are an important step in saving salmon for generations to come.”
Leonard Forsman, Chairman of the Suquamish Tribe: “The salmon recovery funding that Senator Cantwell fought for and secured in both the reconciliation package and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is desperately needed to restore our salmon runs and ensure that salmon have a fighting chance. I am grateful to her commitment to the Puget Sound ecosystem, salmon recovery, and preserving our treaty fishing rights. We are grateful and proud of Senator Cantwell’s efforts.”
Andy Joseph, Jr., Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation: “The Colville Tribes has been working for decades to restore salmon in the region and improve hatchery capacity, including a phased approach to reintroduce salmon into the blocked area above Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams. The Tribes appreciates Senator Cantwell’s leadership to fund these Department of Commerce programs and hopes to utilize these programs in its ongoing efforts.”
William Frank III, Chairman of the Nisqually Tribe: “The Nisqually people are tied to the salmon and as they suffer, so does our way of life. I’m grateful to Senator Cantwell for bringing her passion, advocacy, and drive to saving the salmon. The funding in both the reconciliation package and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help ensure that we have the tools needed to fight for the survival of our salmon. The Nisqually Tribe is grateful for Senator Cantwell’s efforts.”
TJ Greene, Chairman of the Makah Tribal Council: “The Makah Tribal Council supports and recognizes this significant and meaningful investment from our Federal partner and Trustee, championed by Senator Maria Cantwell. The funding and resources attached to this legislation are instrumental in laying a foundational approach to address the human impact on our reserved treaty rights that benefit all citizens of this great nation.”
Lawrence Solomon, Chairman of the Lummi Nation: “The Lummi Nation thanks Senator Cantwell for her work in securing this historic investment in our salmon resource. The recent salmon die off in the Nooksack River highlights the fact that we are at a critical juncture for the survival of salmon, which is interconnected to the Lummi peoples way of life.”
Jaison Elkins, Chair of the Muckleshoot Tribe: “The Muckleshoot Tribe has raised the warning alarms as our salmon runs have been decimated. We have long advocated for a strong federal response and investment to save our salmon. Thanks to Senator Cantwell’s persistence and advocacy, significant funding was included in the infrastructure packages that will soon pass Congress. This funding will ensure that future generations of salmon thrive and that my grandchildren will be able to fish salmon as our people have since time immemorial.”
Sally Jewell, Former Secretary of the Interior: “Salmon of the Salish Sea and the people and animals who depend on them have a true champion in Senator Maria Cantwell,” said former U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Washingtonian Sally Jewell. “Major investments through federal, state, tribal and local agencies will support critical projects for salmon recovery, coastal resilience, habitat, water quality and much more thanks to Senator Cantwell’s tenacity in ensuring these program were included in reconciliation and infrastructure bills on Capitol Hill.”
Guido Rahr, President & CEO of the Wild Salmon Center: “We thank Senator Cantwell for securing federal investments that can change the trajectory of salmon and orca recovery in the Pacific Northwest for decades. We are at a critical juncture for these species and the Tribes, economies, ecosystems, and local communities that depend on them throughout the region. Going forward, these investments should be focused on ensuring the region’s wild salmon and steelhead populations are strong, and their home watersheds are ready for climate change. A top priority should be ensuring that fish have access to the best remaining cold water habitats.”
Callie Hoyt, Director of Federal Government Relations at National Marine Manufacturers Association: “Senator Cantwell has long been a champion of the recreational boating and fishing community and her work to secure critical funding for coastal resiliency measures and reauthorization of the $750 million Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund in these measures is just the latest example of this leadership. As the nation’s original conservationists, we are grateful to have an ally like Senator Cantwell in the fight to protect our environment and natural resources for generations to come.”
Dan McDonald, President of the Yakima Bait Company: “A fractured river and stream system in the Pacific Northwest is among the diversity of challenges salmon are faced with in the region. These investments, including $1 billion for culvert removal and modernization, mark significant progress in mitigating some of those challenges. Together with several other programs, these investments will not only benefit our fisheries, but also the hundreds of businesses intrinsically tied to the health of these stocks.”
Danielle Cloutier, Pacific Fisheries Policy Director of the American Sportfish Association: “The recreational fishing industry owes a great deal of gratitude to Senator Cantwell for leading this bi-partisan effort to pass such robust investments for salmon and fishery programs in the reconciliation package. Funding modernized salmon stock assessments will go a long way in informing and prioritizing Pacific salmon recovery and resilience efforts also supported in this package. There is a tremendous amount of challenging work ahead for salmon recovery, but these funds will undoubtedly lead us in a positive direction.”
Joseph Bogaard, Executive Director of Save our Wild Salmon Coalition: “This historic legislation delivers critical funding to help recover endangered salmon populations and benefit salmon-reliant communities. We’re very grateful to Senator Cantwell for securing these investments to protect, restore and reconnect the freshwater and coastal habitats these fish depend upon. This will provide a huge boost for rebuilding salmon abundance in our state and region, and we look forward to working with the senator to build on this momentum in the months ahead.”
Laura Blackmore, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership: “This truly is a historic investment in our salmon, our orcas, and the people of Puget Sound. With this funding, we will restore estuaries and floodplains, reconnect lost habitat, move infrastructure out of harm’s way, and conduct the studies and monitoring we need to guide our efforts. This is a giant step toward delivering on our promises to the tribes who depend on salmon for their way of life. Senator Cantwell’s leadership will result in salmon returning to our rivers, to feed orcas and people.”
Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA): “Since NSIA’s inception in 1993 we have not witnessed this level of investment in the protection and rebuilding of salmon populations and the habitats they depend upon. We are grateful for Senator Cantwell’s remarkable commitment to the environment, climate resiliency and to salmon-dependent communities. These investments give real hope to our industry, which generates over $3 billion in economic benefits annually for the Pacific Northwest.”
Mike Stevens, Washington state Director for The Nature Conservancy: “The historic level of investment in climate resilience in the Build Back Better framework is a positive and important step toward empowering people and nature to adapt and thrive in the face of unprecedented challenges. This package would be a game-changer for Washington, delivering unprecedented investments to support salmon recovery, protect our forests from catastrophic wildfire and advance environmental justice. We deeply appreciate Senator Cantwell’s leadership as we meet these challenges together, and we urge Congress to send both the infrastructure and reconciliation packages to the President’s desk with the strongest possible climate and natural resources provisions in place.”
Robert W. Davidson, President & CEO of the Seattle Aquarium: “These increased investments in salmon recovery and coastal restoration will make a big difference at a time when we need to be pulling out all the stops to save critically endangered salmon and orcas, protect communities, and leverage the strengths of our ocean to combat the climate crisis. We are deeply grateful for Senator Cantwell’s leadership in championing these priorities and securing significant and much-needed resources.”
Senator Cantwell also has a strong history of leading efforts in Congress to address water contamination due to PFAS, and she has repeatedly introduced bipartisan legislation to hold federal agencies accountable for addressing PFAS contamination at military bases across the country. In January 2020, Cantwell sent a letter to the Acting Secretary of the Navy expressing concern over PFAS health risks to Kitsap County residents, and in February 2020, she called on the EPA to provide an updated timeline for when it will implement the commitments made in the agency’s plan to combat PFAS exposure. In 2017, Cantwell urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to support programs to investigate and clean up chemicals that have contaminated drinking water sources across the nation and secured $62 million in funding for water remediation and environmental restoration in impacted communities.