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News Release

Save California Salmon

On June 16, after hours of debate and public testimony, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to approve the petition from the Karuk Tribe to list the Klamath-Trinity River Spring Chinook as an endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. Yesterday morning the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the transfer of the Klamath River dams to the Klamath River Renewal Corporation for the purpose of dam removal.

Both are important steps to save the ailing Klamath from extinction.

Spring Chinook Salmon, an important food source and cultural species for Klamath River Tribes, used to number in the hundreds of thousands. Now wild Spring Salmon have now been nearly wiped out by poor water management and dam building in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. There is no debate that spring run salmon numbers are alarmingly low, however there is a debate related to genetics as some government scientists do not believe that Klamath spring and fall run salmon are a separate species. However many argue that a recent study on the evolution and genetics of Spring Salmon, and Tribal traditional ecological knowledge point to the fact that spring and fall salmon are a separate species. These competing views made the Endangered Species Act listings complicated, however after hours of debate and public testimony Spring Salmon are now listed in California. 

“The cultural significance of the Spring Salmon is beyond EuroAmerican conception. It’s more than just a policy trying to get passed through, or a biological opinion." said Hoopa Valley Tribal Member, Yurok descendant, and Karuk Spring Salmon Ceremonial Priest, and University of Oregon student Ryan Reed. "The Spring Salmon are our relative that is facing extinction, and a part of our lifestyle, cultural longevity, and the survival of my people. These aspects, as well as many more, need to be addressed, and I’m thankful, proud and hopeful to have the public comment filled with Native voices advocating for future generations. This decision on the petition is a win, not a victory, but should give the people in the Basin hope and momentum for this ongoing fight.

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Reed was one of at least ten Tribal youth that testified for the listing. Many Yurok and Karuk Tribal members said that the last thing they wanted is for such an important food source to be listed as threatened, however extinction of such an important species should not be an opinion.

“Spring Salmon tastes better, those are the real salmon, they even have different names in Yurok. These are quotes I have heard throughout my life living on the Klamath River," said Brook Thompson, from Save California Salmon. "Yurok people have always known that there is a distinct difference between spring and fall salmon. To have the California State Fish & Game Commission recognize the research that is finally here to back up that statement is a triumph for recognizing that traditional ecological knowledge has a basis in hard science. Having so many tribal advocates show up in support of having the Spring Salmon under the California Endangered Species Act should let the public know how crucial protecting the Spring Salmon is to us as Indigenous peoples. The spring chinook in the Klamath River are much more than a food that can be bought at any grocery store. They are tied to who we are as Native people, they are our family, and they are our legacy, a living testament to our resiliency as Native Californians.” 

Save California Salmon, one of the organizations that worked with native youth on their testimonies, said the transfer of the Klamath dams to a dam removal entity and the listing are two of the key actions needed to save Spring Salmon from extinction. They also said both actions are needed to restore salmon and other fisheries to a harvestable level for Tribes, which is the trust responsibility of the federal government and key action to achieving truth and healing for native people in California.

"Today the Klamath dams were transferred to the dam removal entity for the purpose of removal, and yesterday in the spring chinook the dams nearly wiped out were listed under California Endangered Species Act." said Regina Chichizola. Co-director of Save California Salmon. "Both of these wins were the result of decades of Tribal and community-led action for the Klamath River, and they came at a time when we need some hope. The devastating juvenile fish kill we are experiencing on the Klamath River is directly related to the Klamath dams, as are the dismal salmon returns over the last couple decades.

Chichizola went on to say that the Klamath dams were originally scheduled to come out in 2020 but PacifiCorp and government inaction has delayed dam removal in past

“We hope these actions demonstrate California and the Biden administration commitment to protecting and restoring the Klamath River before it is too late.” 

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