A powerful argument for why dam removal makes good scientific, economic, and environmental sense—and requires our urgent attention
In the Pacific Northwest, the Snake River and its wilderness tributaries were once some of the world’s greatest salmon rivers. As recently as a half century ago, they retained some of their historic bounty, with millions of fish returning to spawn. Now, due to four federal dams, the salmon population has dropped close to extinction. Efforts at salmon recovery through fish ladders, hatcheries, and even trucking them over the dams have failed.
Steven Hawley, journalist and self-proclaimed “river rat,” argues that the best hope for the Snake River lies in dam removal, a solution that pits the power authorities and Army Corps of Engineers against a collection of Indian tribes, farmers, fishermen, and river recreationists. The river’s health, as he demonstrates, is closely connected to local economies, fresh water rights, energy independence—and even the health of orca whales in Puget Sound.
The story of the Snake River, its salmon, and its people raises the fundamental questions of who should exercise control over natural resources and which interests should receive highest priority. It also offers surprising counterpoints to the notion of hydropower as a cheap, green, and reliable source of energy, and challenges the wisdom of heavily subsidized water and electricity.
This regional battle is part of an ambitious river restoration movement that stretches across the country from Maine’s Kennebec to California’s Klamath, and engages citizens from a broad social spectrum. In one successful project, the salmon of Butte Creek rebounded from a paltry fourteen fish to twenty thousand within just a few years of rewilding their river, showing the incredible resiliency of nature when given the slightest chance.
Recovering a Lost River depicts the compelling arguments and actions being made on behalf of salmon by a growing army of river warriors. Their message, persistent but disarmingly simple, is that all salmon need is water in their rivers, and a clear way home.
About the Author
Steven Hawley, an environmental journalist, was among the first to write about the historic agreement to tear out Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Maine. Since then, his work has appeared in High Country News, Bear Deluxe, National Fisherman, OnEarth, Arizona Quarterly, the Oregonian, and Missoula Independent. He lives with his family along the Columbia River.
“An impeccable history of salmon politics beautifully researched and told with humor, despair, and, always, heart and force and clarity. A must-read.”—Rick Bass, author of Winter: Notes from Montana
“Very few writers have a sufficiently antic tone, an energetic enough intelligence, or a deep enough love to make enjoyable literature out of the ongoing federal crucifixion of the most important salmon river on this planet. Steven Hawley has found a perfect subject for his remarkable gifts.”—David James Duncan, author of The River Why
“After reading Hawley’s very readable Recovering a Lost River, I’m more convinced than ever that U.S. and Canadian government policy toward salmon and steelhead is to extirpate these pesky critters as they are in the way of greedy development, unnecessary dams, illegal profiteering, toxic fish farms, and more useless hatcheries.” —Yvon Chouinard, owner, Patagonia, Inc.
“Read Steven Hawley’s book. Get out a map of America. Find this huge chunk of Idaho and eastern Oregon, through which a river named the Salmon winds, nearly all of it public lands that belong to us all. This is Noah’s Ark for Salmon. This time around Noah is us.”—Carl Pope, executive director, the Sierra Club
“Hawley writes about the Columbia River Basin from every angle, talking to those whom other writers can’t imagine or muster the courage to address. His style is surprisingly humorous for the subject, thought-provoking, truthful, and unpredictable. He gets it.”—Rebecca A. Miles, executive director, the Nez Perce tribe
“Though there are echoes of some extraordinary authors in Recovering a Lost River—Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and Edward Abbey—Steven Hawley writes with his own distinctly twenty-first century voice about the inherent value of wild rivers and the environmental and social degradation caused by dams. Read it and learn—and act.”—Michael Baughman, author of A River Seen Right
“Thanks to Hawley’s meticulous research, we now have a new gold standard for banditry and shameless deception in private industry, state governments, and in the very federal agencies charged with safeguarding the biological integrity of our natural world. God help us.”—Paul VanDevelder, author of Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire through Indian Territory.