Bright Future: How to keep the Northwest’s lights on, jobs growing, goods moving and salmon swimming the era of climate change shows that with federal and regional leadership, the Northwest electric system can:
• Serve growing energy demands, including new power needs for electrification of transportation
• Cope with climate-related challenges to already endangered salmon stocks
And the cost for achieving this Bright Future? The study compares the costs with business-as-usual, and finds the difference in 2020 and 2050 to be about two-thirds of a cent per kilowatt-hour on the average customer’s bill. And that negligible difference would be swamped by the economic benefits of good jobs, community investment, lower bills for low-income families, healthier buildings and a cleaner environment.
“Talk about a good deal!” said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. “Here in the Northwest we’re justly proud of clean energy tradition and innovation. Now we have a real opportunity to make tomorrow’s power system even cleaner than today’s.”
The analysis starts from the calculation that Northwest electricity needs will more than double by 2050. Affordably meeting those growing needs and coping with climate change and its impacts – the bright future – will require annual development of 340 average megawatts of bill-reducing energy efficiency and 270 average megawatts of new renewable energy. (An “average megawatt” is measure of energy use or production. For comparison, Seattle uses about 1,100 average megawatts of electricity a year.)
Bright Future finds the region rife with opportunities for conservation and renewable energy -- mostly wind now, but solar and others as their costs fall. To seize those opportunities, the paper calls for:
• A cap on global-warming emissions. President Obama and the U.S. Congress should quickly set carbon emission limits consistent with scientists’ recommendations and see that they’re met. But the Northwest must not wait for national action.
• Regional leadership from Bonneville Power Association. The Obama administration should direct BPA to assure regional achievement of 340 aMW of new energy efficiency and 270 aMW of new renewable energy a year.
• A strong regional plan from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that calls for enough energy efficiency and renewable energy to meet all demand growth and move us away from coal power.
• Extending and/or enacting state renewable energy standards.
• Prohibiting new coal plant construction or extending the lives of existing ones. This can be accomplished through federal action or strong emissions performance standards adopted by individual states.
“Bright Future shows we have all the God-given resources – the wind, the sun, the seas, the heat of the Earth – we need to build a better world,” said Earth Ministry executive director LeeAnne Beres. “All we need is the vision and the political will to use those resources wisely.”
Bright Future is the second in the Light in the River series of papers sponsored by Save Our wild Salmon, NW Energy Coalition and the Sierra Club.
Full and four-page versions of Bright Future, as well as several statements from national and regional observers, are available for viewing and download at www.lightintheriver.org/brightfuture
The Salmon Director would be responsible for developing, coordinating and executing federal salmon restoration policy in the Pacific salmon states. Fishing and conservation leaders who signed the letter represent the six Pacific salmon states: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Alaska.
“The creation of a high-level Salmon Director position within the White House would send a strong signal to our fishing communities that things have really changed,” Zeke Grader, Executive Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association (PCFFA), said. “We need to see that the new administration is committed to correcting past failures and putting salmon and salmon fishing families on the road to recovery. People on the West Coast understand that salmon mean business, and restoring healthy salmon populations can and should be one important piece of a larger strategy to rebuild the nation’s economy and get people working again.”
The letter urges the Obama administration to begin work immediately in creating this position to “protect and restore dwindling populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead and the tens of thousands of jobs in our states that depend upon them.”
The Salmon Director position would be empowered to reverse harmful policies by ensuring that scientific integrity is restored to federal decision-making processes. Groups say a tough, no-nonsense director is what is needed; someone capable of coordinating actions of multiple agencies, working with stakeholders, and who understands the importance of the iconic salmon to the West Coast for food and jobs, recreation and commerce, and the region's cultural heritage.
“We’re thankful for the disaster relief, but we don’t want to have to depend on the federal government to bail us out because our salmon populations are collapsing year after year,” Bob Rees, fishing guide and president of the Oregon Guides and Anglers Association, said. “Fishing is the backbone of our economy on the Pacific Coast. With so many agencies and competing missions involved in salmon recovery efforts, we need someone who we know, who is accountable, and who has decision-making authority — someone who can cut through the web of bureaucracy and bring this fish back home.”
Last month, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) released new projections for returning Pacific Coast salmon populations, including the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia-Snake populations. For the second year in a row, Sacramento chinook populations are not expected to meet the minimum escapement required to sustain a fishery, and Klamath and Columbia-Snake chinook are still nowhere near recovery.
Among those hardest hit by the salmon crisis are commercial and sport fishermen. Low returns of endangered Snake River fish continue to constrain sport and commercial fishing from southeast Alaska to California and inland to Idaho. The Pacific salmon crisis has crippled coastal and rural areas that desperately need the revenue generated from healthy and abundant sport and commercial fisheries.
Collapsed populations in the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers and extremely low returns to the Columbia-Snake in the last several years have forced unprecedented closures for ocean fisheries off the coast of Oregon and California — leaving boats docked and crushing coastal and rural communities. As a result of last year’s closures, fishing communities and allied businesses lost more than $290 million, thousands of fishermen and fishing-related business workers lost their jobs.
Federal agencies charged with creating management plans to protect and restore healthy, harvestable salmon and steelhead populations in the rivers have consistently failed despite spending billions of taxpayer dollars. Management plans for the three major salmon rivers on the West Coast — the Columbia-Snake, Klamath and Sacramento are all currently mired in litigation and managed by court order. In the Columbia Basin alone, 13 populations of salmon and steelhead are listed on the Endangered Species Act and the federal agencies have spent more $8 billion in the last two decades, but returns remain dangerously low.
This week, the PFMC will meet in Seattle and announce ocean fishing options for the 2009 season. Closures, and the economic hardship that they bring are expected. PFMC is expected to close much of the West Coast ocean fishery this year in order to protect severely depressed Sacramento River salmon runs. A final decision is expected in early April.
“A senior-level Salmon Director is essential to restoring healthy salmon,” Jeremy Brown, a commercial salmon fisherman and boardmember of the Washington Trollers Association said. “This will not only restore thousands of family-wage jobs in rural and coastal communities, but also return one of the healthiest meals available to American consumers.”
"Today we are taking the only action we can against another legally inadequate plan left over from the Bush administration," said Todd True, Senior Managing Attorney for Earthjustice. "Despite two years of work and a clear warning from a federal judge that it could not continue to ignore the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the current plan is worse than ever. We believe we have a strong case for asking the court to reject this plan. The new Obama administration should have a clean slate to develop a new plan that actually follows the science and complies with the law – a plan that will restore wild salmon and address the crisis facing all kinds of people who have been ill-served by a series of failed and inadequate plans. We look forward to working with the new administration to achieve that goal."
The newest salmon plan, released in May last year by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, is the latest in a long history of government failure to protect and restore wild salmon in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. In 2004, Judge Redden soundly rejected a similar federal salmon plan and warned of "serious consequences" for federal agencies and hydro-system operations if this newest plan fails to follow science and the law to address the needs of wild salmon and steelhead.
Among those hardest hit by the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis are commercial and sport fishermen. Repeated fishery closures and cutbacks in recent years have harmed river and coastal family businesses and livelihoods. Fishermen are also among the plaintiffs in the legal challenge being addressed in court today.
"For us, it's all about the jobs. Without abundant, harvestable populations of salmon we can forget about long-term economic stability," said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA). "The federal agencies under the Bush administration abandoned fishermen and left us with no choice but to fight for our livelihoods in court. None of us want to be here today. What we really want is a real, long-term solution to the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis and an end to the legal deadlock of the last eight years. No matter what happens in court today, it's time for President Obama and Congress to step in and ensure a future for our industry and our families.
In addition to their participation in today's court proceedings, the groups are also calling on President Obama and Congress to step in and bring interested parties together to find a lasting solution for the region that is scientifically sound, legally valid and boosts the regional economy. Today's hearing comes just one week after more than 100 outdoor and recreational fishing businesses wrote to President Obama calling for a solution on the Columbia-Snake River salmon crisis.
"With the new Obama administration and a new Congress in place, we now have a fresh opportunity to bring wild salmon back from the brink of extinction," said Tom Stuart, a retired Idaho businessman and the former president of Idaho Rivers United. "The federal government's disregard for the value of these fish and the health of our rivers continues to hurt thousands of families and businesses in Pacific salmon states, including many businesses in my state of Idaho. Only by putting science first can we meet the challenge of salmon recovery head on and take better care of people whose jobs, families and towns depend on them."
Today's court hearing comes on the heels of another key announcement for Pacific salmon. Last week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) released new projections for returning Pacific Coast salmon populations, including the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia-Snake populations. Sacramento chinook are continuing to plummet and Columbia-Snake chinook populations still remain dangerously low. In 2005 and 2006, Judge Redden ordered protective measures in the Columbia-Snake Rivers, which included spilling more water through reservoirs and over dams in order to help young salmon in their migration out to sea. Many of the same plaintiffs in court today fought for the implementation of those measures. The 2008 federal plan does not include the spill measures and is a retreat from the judge's previously ordered protections. Even though Columbia-Snake salmon populations are nowhere near sustainable levels, fishermen are looking with renewed hope for a comprehensive solution that will help restore salmon and boost the struggling commercial and sport fishing industries in the West.
"We're talking about much more than a fish here. Salmon equal family-wage jobs, a food source and are an integral part of our Northwest way of life," said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association (NSIA). "Frankly, in the past, federal salmon policy minimized alterations to the hydro-system and maximized the risk to salmon. This flew in the face of both science and the law, severely retarding salmon recovery. Our industry was forced to fight hard in the courtroom to give salmon a healthier river and the fish responded. We hope that our efforts will produce the same again this year. If we give these fish a fighting chance, they will survive. But we have more than eight years of ground to make up – we need President Obama to step in to this crisis right now to avert further degradation of Columbia River salmon, steelhead and the jobs they sustain."
According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded, independent science and data analysis agency that monitor Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, 2008 and forecasted 2009 returns are likely the result of the protective measures instituted by Judge Redden – measures that were ordered over the vehement objection of federal agencies under the Bush administration. Fishermen and scientists are calling the slightly improved runs the "Redden effect".
Judge Redden has rejected the federal government's two previous attempts at a Columbia-Snake salmon recovery plan. Most recently, he directed federal agencies to consider all options to help recover salmon, including the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. But despite clear warnings from the judge, the 2008 salmon plan calls for cutting several key salmon protections and comes with a price tag of more than half a billion dollars per year. And while it includes provisions for habitat, hatchery production and predator control, it does not call for significant changes to the region's federal hydro-system, and ignores the four dams on the lower Snake River that kill large numbers of fish and seriously impede access to the Columbia Basin's – and the lower 48's – largest remaining area of high quality, high-elevation salmon spawning habitat. Scientists say that the Snake River Basin's high-elevation habitat will provide viable salmon habitat – if they can access it adequately - even with increased temperatures from global warming.
"The new plan doesn't suggest even a single new action to address long-term impacts from climate change," said Sara Patton, Executive Director of the NW Energy Coalition (NWEC). "Science tells us that the warming waters on the West Coast are making salmon populations even more vulnerable to other threats they're facing in the Columbia River Basin, such as the four, outdated, lower Snake River dams. We have clean, alternative energy sources. It's unacceptable that the federal agencies are ignoring the best science we have."
Next week, a letter signed by fishing businesses and trade organizations up and down the West Coast will ask President Obama to, among other things, establish a new salmon director post a the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). This position would help to coordinate and increase all federal efforts to restore Pacific salmon and salmon-based economies.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Today, more than 100 outdoor and recreational fishing businesses called on President Obama and Oregon Senator Merkley for leadership on one of the nation’s most important natural resource issues: the protection and restoration of wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia-Snake River Basin.
"With the new Obama administration and a new Congress, we now have our best opportunity to end the political and legal deadlock of the last eight years and bring our salmon back from the brink of extinction,” Gareth Martins, Osprey Packs Marketing Director, said. “The former administration’s disregard for the value of these fish and the health of our rivers to the people of the Northwest and beyond is hurting thousands of businesses around the country, including the outdoor industry. Only by putting science first can we meet the vital challenge of salmon recovery head on." Osprey is based in Cortez, CO.
Spanning seven western states (Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Utah), the Columbia-Snake River Basin was once home to the world’s most prolific salmon runs, with 30 million salmon once returning. Today, less than 1 percent of that historic number remain.Thirteen stocks of Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, including all four remaining Snake River stocks, are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Populations of wild Snake River salmon have shown little improvement since being listed in the 1990s. In fact, numbers published today by the Pacific Fishery Management Council show that the five-year average for these fish hover around those 1990 levels and all populations are well below levels required for recovery.
“Conservation is a core priority of our values as a company that cares about the world around us,” James Curleigh, KEEN President and CEO, said. “We're proud to advocate for the protection and restoration of wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest. We ask our nation’s leaders to support long-term solutions to restore these iconic species for our future generations. For us, protecting the Columbia-Snake River Basin is good for the environment, good for the outdoor industry, and good for outdoor enthusiasts.” KEEN is based in Portland, Ore.
Snake River sockeye, the most endangered salmon in the Columbia Basin, travel higher and farther than any other salmon in the world. Swimming 1,000 miles inland and climbing 7,000 feet in elevation to reach their spawning grounds in the mountains of Idaho, these fish are truly unique.
“Salmon are an awe-inspiring icon of the American West and symbolize the hope, strength and resiliency of our country. For too long, laws, like the Endangered Species Act, developed in a bipartisan spirit have been revoked or ignored. We have the power and the responsibility to demand the government live up to its obligation to protect our natural resources. We have an opportunity like never before to make amends on this river, with this species—to take on a tremendous river restoration project—and recover salmon populations, revitalize recreation, create jobs and breathe new life into our rural and coastal communities. And this all begins by removing the four lower Snake River dams.” Patagonia, based in Ventura, CA, selected Snake River salmon its Freedom to Roam Campaign this year. Its goal is to create, restore and protect wildways or corridors between habitats so animals can survive.
The letter to President Obama comes on the heels of another key announcement for Pacific salmon. The Pacific Fishery Management Council is expected to release new numbers on Pacific Coast salmon populations, including the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia-Snake populations. While the Sacramento chinook have plummeted again, the Columbia-Snake chinook are holding their own because of court-ordered protections in the river when the young salmon were migrating downstream. Fishermen looked to the new numbers on the Columbia-Snake with renewed hope for a solution to the endangered salmon populations there.
“We’re talking about much more than a fish here, this is a jobs issue for the sport fishing industry, a food source and an integral part of our Northwest way of life,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “Frankly, the Bush administration’s policy has done nothing but ignored science and the law. We had to fight to give salmon a river and they responded with slightly improved returns last year and we expect the same again this year. If we give these fish a fighting chance, they will survive, but we need President Obama to step in right now, or we’ll see economic devastation in the Northwest like never before.”Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association is based in Oregon City, Ore.
According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded, independent science and data analysis agency that monitors Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, 2008 and 2009 (forecasted) improved returns are likely the result of the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when the now-returning fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon. Judge Redden court-ordered those in-river improvements after Hamilton’s group along with other fishing and conservation groups fought to have them instituted — over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are calling the improved runs the “Redden effect”.
“Fishermen right now are looking at these numbers and we're just grateful that Judge Redden ordered the increased spill over the Columbia-Snake dams in 2006,” said Jeremy Brown, a commercial fisherman from Bellingham, Wash. “If it weren't for those spill measures that were fought for in court by fishermen and conservationists, the numbers of returning 3-year-old salmon would be dismal. But with this sliver of hope in the midst of a national salmon crisis, President Obama has an opportunity to seek a solution that will restore fishing jobs and help boost the fishing economy up and down the West Coast.”
PORTLAND, Ore. — The State of Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups asked a federal judge today for help in improving river conditions for endangered Northwest salmon and ensuring the jobs of Northwest fishermen. The injunction request filed in U.S. District Court seeks specific in-river protections in 2009 for Columbia-Snake River salmon. Judge James Redden will consider the request early next year after he is expected to rule on the plaintiffs' underlying claims against the Bush administration's 2008 salmon plan.
"This is a jobs issue for the fishing industry, pure and simple. The Snake and Columbia River dams still kill millions of salmon and devastate salmon-dependent communities all up and down the coast," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the plaintiff groups. "Frankly, the Bush administration's policy has been nothing but denial and delay. With the new Obama administration and next year's Congress, we have a new opportunity to recover these once-mighty salmon runs before it is too late. Otherwise, we will see economic devastation in the Northwest like never before."
The injunction request seeks more spill over the dams and increased river flow through Columbia-Snake River reservoirs to help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. Science shows that the quicker young salmon make it through the heavily dammed river system, the higher their survival rate. But the Bush administration's salmon plan (also called a Biological Opinion, or "BiOp") released earlier this year rolls back - and even eliminates - some of the key protections ordered by the court in the past. Those court-ordered protections contributed to 2008's improved returns.
"We need the court to make sure we keep salmon on life support until we can get them to the recovery room," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "We saw improved salmon returns this year only because in 2006 fishers and conservationists fought tooth and nail in court to secure protections for these fish. But the Bush administration has already stripped away these protections, calling for lower flows and less spill. We're fighting to make sure that this year's good news will not become just a fleeting memory."
According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded, independent science and data analysis agency that monitors Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, this year's improved returns are likely the result of more water left in the river and the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when the now-returning fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon. Judge Redden court-ordered those in-river improvements after conservationists and fishermen fought to have them instituted - over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are hailing the so-called "Redden effect" as an important tool for keeping and creating sustainable jobs in the region until a scientifically-sound, legally-valid salmon plan is in place.
"It's important to understand that what is being proposed in this preliminary injunction is not a long-term solution to the economic crisis in the Northwest," cautioned Spokane contractor and steelhead fisherman Harvey Morrison. "It's a stop-gap measure that we must rely on because the Bush administration has left us no other choice We need our Northwest lawmakers to show leadership and bring people together so that we can find lasting solutions that will secure fishing jobs as well as important transportation needs for farmers in Inland Northwest."
This June, the State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups filed litigation against the Bush administration's May 2008 salmon plan for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Courts have already invalidated three prior federal plans. On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral arguments on the merits of the case. The injunction requested today is unlikely to be addressed until after the court rules on the merits. Any ruling on the proposed injunction would be made sometime after mid-February 2009.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A national coalition of commercial and sport fishermen, conservationists and clean energy and taxpayer advocates are challenging the latest Bush administration plan for continuing to operate federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers at the expense of wild salmon, calling it a slap in the face to fishermen, fishing families, and coastal communities.
“Today we are taking the only action we can against another legally inadequate plan from the Bush Administration,” said Todd True, Senior Managing Attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle, Wash. “Despite two years of work and a clear warning from the federal courts that the Administration cannot ignore the Endangered Species Act, we now have a plan that is worse than ever. Our only option is to ask the courts to intervene again, hold the government accountable, and require it to obey the law.”
In addition to filing litigation today, the groups are also calling on congressional leadership for legislative solutions to the declining salmon populations Columbia-Snake and other West Coast rivers that have contributed to unprecedented salmon declines and fishery closures on the West Coast.
“After so many failed plans, we obviously cannot rely on the Bush Administration to help restore salmon in the Pacific Northwest,” said Debbie Sease, Conservation Director for Sierra Club in Washington, DC. “Today we are urging our leaders in Congress to step up with legislation that will authorize removal of four outdated dams on the Snake River and provide real long-term solutions to the salmon declines that have left people and the environment bearing the brunt of the government’s failures.”
Among those hardest hit by the West Coast salmon crisis are fishermen, whose livelihoods and family businesses have been harmed by repeated fishery closures and cutbacks in recent years. Fishermen are also among the plaintiffs in the legal challenge being brought against the Bush Administration’s federal salmon plan.
“The Administration’s plan not only deliberately ignores science, it overlooks the tens of thousands of people on the West Coast who rely on these fish for their jobs. Without abundant, harvestable populations of salmon we can forget about long-term economic stability,” said Pietro Parravano, President of the Institute for Fisheries Resources and commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay, Calif. "This Administration has abandoned fishermen. It’s time for Congress to step in and ensure a future for our industry and our families.”
The new litigation also coincides with the culmination of the Save Our Wild Salmon National Road Show that has traveled to 11 states and more than 30 cities to bring attention to the West Coast salmon crisis.
“What’s happening on the West Coast is a complete disaster,” said Nate Grader, Co-director of the Wild Salmon Road Show from San Francisco, Calif. “For the last two months, I’ve been traveling across this country talking to people from Nevada to New York about the salmon crisis. They are totally blown away by the economic devastation from these salmon declines, but they’re even more outraged by the failure of the federal government to take meaningful action to help communities that are hurting. Congress needs to listen to that message and show some leadership.”
The newest salmon plan from the Administration, released on May 5, is the latest in a long history of failure by federal agencies to protect and restore wild salmon throughout the West. National conservation, fishing and taxpayer advocates have criticized the plan’s lack of science-based analysis.
“The new plan doesn’t suggest even a single new action to address long-term impacts from climate change,” said John Kostyack, Executive Director of Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming for National Wildlife Federation in Washington, DC. “Science tells us that the warming waters on the West Coast are making salmon populations even more vulnerable to other threats they’re facing in the Columbia River Basin, such as the four outdated lower Snake River dams. It’s unacceptable that the Administration is ignoring the best science we have.”
Three of the last four federal plans for the Columbia and Snake River have been found inadequate and illegal in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland soundly rejected the federal government’s 2004 salmon plan and has indicated that “serious consequences” for federal agencies and hydro-system operations would follow if this newest plan did not follow the law and address the needs of salmon.
Despite this history of failure, the new salmon plan calls for cutting several key salmon protection measures and comes with a price tag of more than half a billion dollars per year. While it includes some provisions for habitat, hatchery production, and predator control, it calls for no significant changes to the region's federal hydrosystem and ignores the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to the basin’s endangered salmon.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today’s testimony from scientists, fishermen and small business owners at a hearing of the House Subcommittee for Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans paints a grim picture of how the federal government’s repeated failures to responsibly manage the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia-River Snake River Basins have paved the way for a major West Coast salmon collapse that is hitting local salmon-dependent communities and economies hard.
"What’s happening on the West Coast is a mess. Fishermen are completely devastated and so are the tens of thousands of Americans that rely on salmon for their livelihoods,” said Joel Kawahara, a Pacific salmon troller from Seattle. “The Sacramento collapse this year, the Klamath collapse two years ago, and the dwindling stocks in the Columbia-Snake all point to our desperate need for leadership. Congress must step in to ensure a future for our industry and our families.”
Up and down the Pacific Coast of the United States, from California to Alaska, salmon populations are steadily and, in many cases, steeply declining. At the same time, federal courts have found the Bush Administration’s actions to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in all three river systems. Federal mismanagement of freshwater habitat, in addition to encroaching climate change impacts, have led to an unprecedented West Coast salmon collapse and triggered fishing closures and restrictions throughout the entire Pacific Rim fishery.
“The West Coast is facing one of the largest man-made economic fishery disasters in the country as a result of the collapse of the Central Valley Chinook salmon runs,” said Dick Pool, owner of Pro-Troll Fishing Products, which is based in Concord, California. “We believe history will rank this disaster in the same category as the Exxon Valdez, the collapse of the New England Cod fishery and the collapse of the Atlantic Striped Bass fishery in the 1980s.”
For decades, the federal government has failed to come up with responsible salmon recovery plans that meaningfully address the threats to West Coast salmon. Climate change is speeding up an already problematic situation. A recent report by former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife chief Jim Martin and National Wildlife Federation global-warming expert Patty Glick noted that reconnecting salmon to the best headwaters habitat is crucial in implementing policies to address climate change. Headwater habitats will warm the least and retain the most snow — especially above 4,000 feet, and are essential requirements for salmon recovery.
“Congress needs to understand that salmon are especially vulnerable to climate change because they depend on an abundance of clear, cold water,” said Dr. Jack E. Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited. “For those populations already listed as endangered or threatened, 28 of which are on the West Coast, climate change is likely to push them further to the brink of extinction. This makes it all the more imperative for Congress to respond to the needs of these complex river systems.”
In April, a record collapse in adult Chinook salmon returning from the ocean to their spawning grounds in the Sacramento River triggered the first-ever complete coast-wide ban of commercial and sport fishing from southern California to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon.
“The Sacramento closure – like salmon declines up and down the coast – is having a devastating impact on my business and businesses throughout the region,” said Roger Thomas, president, Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association. “It’s not the ocean that is causing this devastation; it is the mismanagement of the freshwater habitat by the federal government that has led to this closure.”
Farther north, salmon in the Klamath River are barely holding on, after suffering a similar fishery collapse in 2006, and multiparty talks about removing four hydropower dams, which prevent migrating fish from reaching much of their traditional habitat, continue, but with an uncertain outcome.
In the Columbia-Snake River Basin salmon runs that once reached 16 million fish now return with less than one percent of that historic number. Thirteen distinct Columbia River salmon populations are listed under the ESA, and four of those are from the Snake River, the Columbia’s largest tributary. Dams take the biggest cut, killing more than 90 percent of ocean-going Columbia-Snake salmon. Science shows that removal of the four lower Snake River dams is essential to the recovery of Columbia-Snake Basin salmon runs, however on May 5, the Bush administration released its fifth biological opinion regarding the operations of the federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers refusing to even consider the dam removal option. Three of the last four biological opinions have been ruled illegal by federal courts, and this latest plan again ignores science and the law, despite two years of work and a clear warning from the federal courts that the government cannot ignore the ESA.
This week, Congress is voting on needed federal disaster assistance for fishing communities. Relief funding will be a crucial and welcome short-term lifeline, but fishing communities would much prefer abundant salmon runs over the long run. Going forward, congressional leadership is needed to forge long-term solutions to these problems on West Coast rivers — so communities don’t face salmon crises year in and year out.
“The 2008 total shut down of our salmon fishery is devastating to the entire West Coast fishing fleet,” Local Ocean Seafoods owner Laura Anderson said. “By pushing salmon to extinction, we are losing much more than a fish — we are losing a healthy food source, a culture and a way of life. What we really need is our congressional leaders to demand and implement a solid salmon recovery plan for all our rivers. Right now. Today. This is something that cannot wait.”