Policy and Government - Blogs

New York Times Blog: The Law That Saved the Bald Eagle 

osborne.sockeye.redfish.webDecember 31, 2013, 2:35 pm


In this season of birthdays and holidays, on Saturday the environmental community rightly celebrated the 40th anniversary of the passage of one of the most ambitious of the Nixon era’s landmark environmental statutes: the Endangered Species Act. The act is at once the noblest of those statutes — aimed, in President Nixon’s words, at protecting “an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage — threatened wildlife”; and also the most controversial, detested by loggers, developers and other interests for elevating the needs of nature over the needs of commerce. Approved by huge margins in both chambers (the vote on the House was an astounding 355-4), the act would stand zero chance of passage in today’s poisoned political climate.


SOS submits comments on the Columbia River Treaty

Columbia River GorgeAugust 13, 2013

The 1964 Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada is being re-negotiated over the next two years.  A modernized, 21st Century Treaty is essential to SOS' mission of restoring abundant salmon and steelhead throughout the Basin for use by people and ecosystems.  It is also essential for our two nations and the great Northwest we share to navigate the unprecedented rapids of climate change over our next 50 years.  The "Working Draft" of the U.S. negotiating position, released a month ago by Bonneville Power and the Army Corps, falls well short of the modern Treaty that Northwest people and salmon need.  SOS is working with others to change that.  

SOS and the NW Energy Coalition co-signed a letter this week highlighting our serious concerns re: the "June 27 Working Draft". This letter was submitted to the Bonneville Power and Army Corps as our official public comment. You can read our detailed comments (in pdf) on the "Working Draft" here.

See article #4 in our June 2013 Wild Salmon and Steelhead News for further information and links to the "Working Draft" released by Bonneville Power and Army Corps of Engineers on June 27.

All Scientists Are Saying Is…"Give (More) Spill A Chance."

From the desk of Gilly Lyons, SOS Policy and Legal Director. May 6, 2013.

Bonneville dam

120% or 125%?

2%, 4%, or 6%?

35% or 70%?


These numbers and acronyms are just a sample of the many facts and figures presented at the Comparative Survival Study (CSS) annual meeting that I attended April 30 in Vancouver, WA. CSS is a collaborative scientific study, initiated in 1996 by state and Tribal fishery managers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, to estimate Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead survival rates at different life stages. Probably our most effective near-term salmon protection measure is spill - a program that sends some water over Columbia/Snake River dams (rather than through turbines) to help more young fish reach the Pacific Ocean safely. With the dams in place, spill helps the river act just a bit more like, well, a river – which is exactly what endangered salmon and steelhead need.

Since 2006, under federal court order (as a result of a legal victory achieved by salmon and fishing advocates, the State of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe), federal dam managers have been required to spill water to improve salmon survival during their spring/summer migration.

Scientists have long understood that spill helps salmon, but it turns out to be even more beneficial than we thought – not just in terms of getting ocean-bound smolts downstream in one piece, but also in terms of their survival in the ocean and eventual return to spawning gravels as adults.

At this year’s meeting, scientists presented a range of modeled scenarios that indicate more spill - up to a point - can lead to survival improvements that could move imperiled salmon and steelhead stocks from the “treading water/ at high risk of extinction” column into the “hey, now we’re getting somewhere” column.

The truest way to measure salmon survival is something called the Smolt-to-Adult Return ratio, or SAR. For example, for every 100 smolts that journey downstream, how many ultimately return as adults? Scientists generally agree that a 2-4% SAR is needed for survival over the long-term, while a 4-6% SAR is required to rebuild populations. CSS modeled various levels of spill to see how each of four scenarios affected the SARs.

Underpinning these scenarios is a key balancing question: can we spill enough water to yield an SAR at or above 2% (the region’s minimum target for getting salmon numbers "back in the black"), but without spilling so much water that in-river gas levels put the fish at risk of injury? (As spill levels increase, dissolved gases do too, and at certain threshold levels, this can become problematic for salmon and steelhead.)

css.sar.2013The CSS shows we can. According to the scientists' models, if we spill enough water to reach 125% total dissolved gas (ie, the saturation of nitrogen in the river on the dams’ downstream side), we are likely to see SARs at or above 2% more than 70% of the time. (The 125% dissolved gas level is also very safe for salmon; it is only at higher levels that fish start to show signs of impact or injury.) Even if we spill to a 120% gas cap, we’d see those sought-after SARs about 35% of the time.

Contrast both of those scenarios to the level of spill laid out in the now-illegal 2008/2010 federal salmon plan (BIOP): it only hits an SAR of 2% or more 14% of the time. Our salmon, steelhead and fishing economy, and our region needs better than that; the CSS model shows that "better" is very possible.

While Bonneville Power Administration and the other federal dam managers still insist on much lower spill levels, many Northwest fishery managers appear interested in spilling more water (maybe to 120%, perhaps to 125%) to help fish – and “test the waters” to confirm that more spill at these higher levels will lead to many more salmon.

We want to see this too. With our partners, SOS has fought successfully for spill since 2005. We know that it works – and that it’s largely responsible (along with good ocean conditions) for the modest bumps in salmon returns that we’ve seen over the past few years.

The science says let's give spill a chance; now is the time for a new, expanded experimental spill program in the Columbia/Snake rivers.

SEE THE FULL REPORT on the Fish Passage Center website  - with the presentations from the 2013 CSS Annual Meeting.

Save Our wild Salmon Coalition welcomes new BPA administrator Bill Drummond

BPA-Logo-colorThe Save Our wild Salmon coalition welcomes Bill Drummond as the next administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration. We wish him success in leading an agency crucial to Northwest people and businesses, including salmon-based businesses.

To a large extent, his success will be measured by whether BPA changes its unsuccessful approach to restoring the 12 wild salmon and steelhead species that the federal dam system has pushed onto the Endangered Species Act. For 12 years, federal dams on the Columbia and Snake have been operated illegally with respect to salmon. No federal plan for running the dams to avoid extinction and restore healthy populations has come close to court approval. No clear recovery trend is underway in the rivers and much of the progress actually made has resulted from court injunctions that Bonneville opposed. BPA’s approach is harming salmon people and businesses in five states. Bonneville itself has acknowledged that the lack of a legal plan is causing uncertainty that affects all uses and users of the river.

Mr. Drummond and BPA’s new leadership have three immediate opportunities to set a better course.

First, BPA can embrace the development of a new salmon plan for the dams that at last meets the tests of law and science. A new plan is due to federal court one year from now.

Second, Bonneville can support NOAA Fisheries’ recently-launched stakeholder process as a collaborative workspace where salmon, energy, transportation, and agricultural users can work together to tackle the uncertainties affecting us all on the Columbia and Snake. These rivers and what we need from them are changing, climate disruption is accelerating that change, and the challenges that confront all users can only be resolved together - not separately.

Third, Bonneville can change its “overgeneration policy”, which is harming the Northwest’s windpower industry as well as its salmon and salmon economy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently ruled against BPA’s policy; Mr. Drummond can turn the necessity of revisiting it into an opportunity to provide salmon more useful spill, boost wind energy and energy efficiency, and thereby create Northwest jobs and growth in salmon and clean energy.

Fishing, conservation, clean energy and outdoor business groups congratulate Mr. Drummond on his appointment as BPA’s leader. We want to work with him and his leadership team to restore salmon and make the Columbia-Snake work better for all its users.

For further information:
Pat Ford, executive director, Save Our Wild Salmon 208-345-9067

2011ReportNOAA, We Have a Problem

In late September, an annual progress report was issued by federal agencies responsible for implementing significant portions of the 2008/2010 salmon plan – ruled illegal in 2011 – for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. That report painted an extraordinarily rosy picture of the status of salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin. Today, the coalition of fishing and conservation groups challenging the government’s salmon plan in federal court submitted comments on the progress report that take a hard look at the agencies’ troubled arithmetic and unsubstantiated conclusions. The upshot? There’s a yawning disconnect between what federal salmon managers are doing, and what salmon actually need. The bottom line? Salmon continue to struggle and in several cases lose ground, while the federal agencies continue to claim that all is well.

Below is the statement of Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, on the progress report comments submitted in October to a U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon.

These comments illustrate compellingly that there’s a huge difference between a public relations document and a science-driven policy document. Unfortunately, the federal agencies’ 2011 Annual Progress Report looks a lot more like the former. By glossing over significant concerns, using murky math, and citing actions that may not have anything to do with improving salmon survival, the agencies in charge of the Progress Report are doing Northwestern people, and all Americans who care about salmon and salmon communities, a disservice. They may also be painting themselves into a corner – legally and scientifically. The 2008/2010 salmon plan is based largely on the notion that extensive habitat projects can compensate for the massive harm done by the federal hydrosystem on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But the Progress Report fails to show whether that plan’s specific actions are being implemented, whether the necessary survival benefits for salmon are materializing, or what measures the agencies have taken to make up for any shortfall. The Progress Report doesn’t connect the dots between the underlying salmon plan’s calculus and real-world salmon survival, a fundamental flaw that reveals how very shaky the plan’s foundations are; indeed, this is what a house of cards looks like. Meanwhile, salmon and salmon-based communities face an even bigger problem: declining salmon productivity, and no federal blueprint to fix that.

“Thankfully, there is still both time and opportunity to change direction in the Columbia Basin. Federal salmon managers have just over one year to produce a new lawful Biological Opinion that fully addresses the significant harm to salmon caused by the federal hydrosystem – and that complies with a federal court’s order to go beyond mere tweaks. Further, NOAA Fisheries and the Obama Administration have a great opportunity – today – to bring together affected stakeholders to begin work to craft a durable plan that restores salmon, boosts clean energy and transportation, creates jobs, and invests in communities. The time for glossy PR materials is past; it’s time we start real conversations about actual solutions in the Columbia Basin.”

Senator Wyden Supports New Approach to Salmon Restoration

Backs Governor Kitzhaber's call for a stakeholder process on Columbia-Snake Salmon

RonWyden pressphoto webThis week, the senior senator from the State of Oregon issued a short statement supporting the Governor's recent call to convene a stakeholder process for Columbia-Snake River salmon:

"Time and time again we've seen that good things happen when folks agree to meet face-to-face and tackle the tough issues facing Oregon. I'm glad to see that Governor Kitzhaber has taken the initiative and announced his support for a roundtable that will bring together tribes, fishermen, farmers, power customers, conservationists and officials from state and local governments to discuss Northwest salmon issues. This is the kind of collaborative process that the region needs to find a solution to such a thorny issue." -- Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Thank you, Senator Wyden, for your support of salmon restoration solutions!

Read Governor Kitzhaber's op-ed and our press release.

Save Our wild Salmon is a diverse, nationwide coalition working together to restore wild salmon and steelhead to the rivers, streams and marine waters of the Pacific Northwest for the benefit of our region's ecology, economy and culture.




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