Wild Salmon and Steelhead News – February 2013
The Save Our wild Salmon Coalition’s mostly-monthly online newsletter with news, updates and developments affecting Columbia and Snake River wild salmon and steelhead, and the communities that rely on them.
IN THIS ISSUE:1. Doc Hastings Warns NOAA Against Initiating – Gasp! – a Regional Stakeholder Conversation. 2. What Future for the Lower Snake River Waterway? 3. The Latest Predictions for 2013 Salmon and Steelhead Returns 4. Return of the Elwha River – A Film
1. Doc Hastings Warns NOAA Against Initiating – Gasp! – a Regional Stakeholder Conversation.
On Feb. 4, Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA) fired off a letter to the Obama Administration’s NOAA Chief Dr. Jane Lubchenco asking her to stop the salmon stakeholder process that her agency just got started. He stated his intent to bring pressure on the agency via a review of NOAA's efforts by the House Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs.
Fortunately, Congressman Hastings is increasingly on his own today. Many regional leaders - including Oregon's Gov. Kitzhaber, the U.S. senators from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and a number of U.S. House members - support an authentic stakeholder collaboration to resolve the tough issues that communities face in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. The Northwest’s three major newspapers - Seattle Times, Idaho Statesman, and Oregonian - have all editorialized in favor of solutions-oriented stakeholder talks.
TAKE ACTION: Please ask the Northwest’s newest Governor – Jay Inslee - to publicly support regional stakeholder collaboration as the right way forward for NW salmon and communities. Given Congressman Hastings' recent volley against NOAA's process, it is critical that the region’s newest governor join other Northwest leaders and publicly support this new stakeholder-driven approach to resolve the linked issues of salmon, clean energy, agriculture, and transportation in the Columbia Basin. While NOAA's stakeholder initiative is still in its infancy, Governor Inslee's early support is vital to ensuring that this new process has its best chance at success.
2. What Future for the Lower Snake River Waterway?
Late last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) – a document that purports to analyze the future of the lower Snake River waterway and its continued use as a barge transportation corridor. In its DEIS, the Army Corps focuses on sediment management – aka, dredging – as its best option for maintaining the waterborne transportation system. Save Our wild Salmon, in cooperation with the Nez Perce Tribe and a number of local organizations and leaders, is now carefully reviewing the DEIS. In mid-January, we successfully asked the Army Corps for an extension of comment time. The new comment deadline is now March 26 – giving the public an additional 45 days to review and weigh in on the DEIS.
The creation of a barge transportation corridor was the main argument for building the four lower Snake River dams in the 1960s and ‘70s. Today, it remains a main argument for keeping them. But the system’s costs are growing – including the need for regular, harmful dredging operations and a worsening flood risk for the people and businesses of downtown Lewiston, ID. To be sure, farmers and other local businesses need a reliable, affordable transportation system to deliver their products to market, but the question of whether ‘barges are best’ deserves far more scrutiny – certainly more than the Army Corps provides in its DEIS (which is approximately none). Working with local community members, SOS wants to make sure that this EIS process provides for a broader discussion of the barge system’s true costs and benefits, its impacts on salmon and steelhead recovery, and how it fits into a larger set of regional transportation needs.
Visit our website to learn more about the Sediment DEIS and some initial thoughts about the barge system’s economics from Lin Laughey, co-founder of Fighting Goliath, the voice of the people of Highway 12 in central Idaho who joined forces to stop ExxonMobil from turning their functional, historic, and beautiful local road into an industrial corridor and sacrifice zone for tar sands development. The people of Highway 12 have won so far, but the Port of Lewiston has not stopped its quest to attract Big Oil/Gas/Coal traffic to help rescue the lower Snake’s navigation corridor from its decade-long decline.3. The Latest Predictions for 2013 Columbia-Snake River Salmon and Steelhead Returns
Winter is when Northwest fisheries scientists pour over last year’s data in order to make predictions about the coming salmon and steelhead return. The Columbia and Snake River adult upriver migration won’t officially begin until April, finishing in early fall. Until then, of course, we won’t really know how the fish fare. This annual prediction ritual, however, is essential for setting up expectations and establishing fishing levels and seasons (targeting hatchery fish).
Based on reports so far, this year’s forecast unfortunately contains more bad news than good: Most stocks, including the thirteen Endangered Species Act-listed runs, are expected to return at levels lower than last year.
In a specific example, the official forecast for this year’s wild spring/summer chinook return suggest that just 11,000 adults will likely survive to reach Idaho after passing eight dams on the Columbia and lower Snake Rivers. By comparison, last year’s wild run was 21,000; 2011 was 22,000; and 2010 was 26,000. Even if you ignore the recent downward trend, these are very small numbers compared with the two million salmon that returned to Idaho historically, and are a long, long ways from the ‘80,000 wild chinook returning for eight consecutive years’ that are estimated to be needed to remove the species from listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The main exception to the anticipated lower returns in 2013 comes from the upriver brights, or Fall chinook. Over 400,000 Fall chinook are expected this year. The vast majority of these fish will stick to the Columbia River mainstem – and more specifically the 51-mile free-flowing Hanford Reach in south-central Washington State. Just 31,000 of these anticipated fish are bound for the Snake River.
We’ll keep you posted as this information is updated and, of course, as the fish actually start showing up in early April.4. Return of the Elwha River – A Film.
Two Washington State filmmakers - John Gussman and Jessica Plumb - are busy at work to complete a film celebrating the restoration of a healthy, free-flowing, salmon-abundant Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in western Washington State. As you may recall, after a decades-long campaign on the part of a coalition that includes the Klallam Tribe, conservation and fishing advocates, and local communities, the federal government in 2011 began removal of two 100-year old dams from a river whose headwaters lay deep in the heart of Olympic National Park. It is the largest dam removal project – so far! – on the planet.
Visit their website and enjoy a 5 minute trailer to give you a little taste of the watershed, the river, and film – all currently works in progress. Enjoy – and we’ll keep you posted when the movie is released.
As always, thank you for your support for wild salmon, healthy rivers, and the communities that rely on them!
Joseph and the SOS Team