Pacific salmon, the signature species of the Pacific Northwest, have declined across their range for well over a century, due to a myriad of human-caused effects on their habitat and the fish themselves. Restoration efforts—some successful, some halting—began in earnest in the late 20th century, with considerable attention focused on the Columbia Basin, where historically salmon runs were crippled by a large interconnected hydroelectric system of federal and non-federal dams. In the 1980 Northwest Power Act, Congress created an interstate agency, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, with access to a substantial amount of ratepayer dollars; the agency has chosen to expend those dollars principally for habitat rehabilitation and hatchery production. Generic federal laws like the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act have provided some levers to modify dam operations to benefit fish and driven better protections for salmon throughout the Northwest. The relicensing requirements of the Federal Power Act, coupled with that law’s fish protection provisions, have led to several notable dam removals. Significant restoration in Puget Sound watershed is underway due to a judicial decision finding that barrier road culverts violate treaty fishing rights, an interpretation that holds potential to foster salmon habitat improvement measures throughout the Northwest. Surveying events from Alaska’s Bristol Bay in the north to the Klamath River along the Oregon-California border in the south, we explain how the law has ––and must––play a key role in efforts to save salmon. Although the importance of particular laws varies from basin to basin—as does their effectiveness—some significant restoration is underway despite major unanswered questions such as the fate of the lower Snake River dams. The institution of tribal co-management programs, especially along the Oregon coast, provide an especially significant restoration tool if this development can be replicated across salmon country. The addition of tribal sovereigns into decision-making is likely to improve salmon protection and restoration wherever co-management programs exist. Improved management will be a prerequisite if Pacific salmon are to recover in a climate-challenged world that threatens the existence of many runs. But to a large extent, restoring historic fish runs will require federal policies and leadership that have not always been present. As the first quarter of the 21st century draws to a close, salmon saving efforts are proceeding on a variety of fronts with some promising results, but the future of many salmon runs is clouded by the threat of climate change and a national ambivalence to confronting its challenges with a muscular response.

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