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Save Our Wild Salmon


by Colin Miner

By Jeff Barnard, AP Environmental Writer

October 5th, 2009
The Mountain Culture: Salmon Advocates Take It to the House
Posted by Emily Nuchols



September 23rd, 2009
Judge asks for responses to Obama salmon plan
By Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

September 23rd, 2009
Obama science goes schizophrenic on salmon restoration
By Daniel Jack Chasan



September 15, 2009
Obama speeds effort to save salmon, renews dam-removal option
by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian




October 9th, 2009
New York Times - Green Inc. Blog: Critics Contest Dam Plan in Northwest
by Colin Miner

The Obama administration’s new plan to show that salmon and hydroelectric dams can coexist along the Columbia and Snake Rivers is not all that different from the Bush administration’s old plan, according to critics who want a federal judge to rule against it.

“It is a great disappointment to watch the new administration break its vow to restore science to its rightful place in the decision-making process,” Oregon Attorney General John Kroger wrote in a filing on Wednesday.

Mr. Kroger’s filing asks the judge, James Redden, to reject the government’s plan, which would keep the eight contested hydroelectric plants that now produce power on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Idaho. The government argues that the dams can coexist with salmon and steelhead that have become endangered or threatened, and that the dams should be breached only as a last resort.

“Oregon thought perhaps the administration’s review would bring meaningful improvements, and put a stop to the endless cycle of litigation,” Mr. Kroger wrote. “That has not occurred.”

Oregon, along with the Nez Perce tribe and a coalition of environmental groups, wants Judge Redden to rule that the federal government has failed to live up to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the parameters of which require the government to make sure the dams do not endanger the 13 populations of salmon and steelhead that live in the rivers.

The plan’s critics hoped the Obama administration would back away from the plan put forth by the Bush administration, which the judge has in the past lambasted for “treading water and avoiding their obligations.” Those critics are seeking a plan that would include more comprehensive research and monitoring of fish populations and substantial contingency actions — such as breaching the dams — that are ready to be carried out.

In their filing this week, the Nez Perce argued that instead of dealing with the question of whether an action will lead to recovery of the species, the government lowered the standard as to whether the species will survive.
“The tribe is alarmed by the real world consequences,” wrote David Cummings and Geoffrey Whiting, both lawyers for the tribe.

The tribe also criticized the plan’s listing of consideration of breaching the dams as a contingency of last resort, calling it “cynical.”

“Federal defendants have created a contingency that can never be evaluated on a purely biological basis, that will remain politically paralyzed, and that will never be deployable in time to be of value to any species,” the Nez Perce lawyers wrote.

The government has until Oct. 23 to file a rebuttal.



October 8th, 2009
AP Groups say nothing new in Columbia salmon plan
By Jeff Barnard, AP Environmental Writer

Groups suing to make Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams safer for salmon say there is nothing new or real about the Obama administration's revised plans for saving threatened and endangered salmon.

Formal responses from the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, conservation groups and salmon fishermen were filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore.

They argue that the NOAA Fisheries Service plan, known as a biological opinion, filed last month lowers triggers that would prompt stronger conservation measures to population levels at the brink of extinction, and does not improve on short term measures proven to help salmon, such as increasing the amount of water spilled over dams when young fish are migrating downstream.

"If you are not going to do anything different until you see population crashes of that magnitude, you are running a huge risk," said Steve Mashuda, an attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm representing some of the plaintiffs. "You run the risk of sounding an alarm bell and five years later the fire department shows up."

U.S. District Judge James Redden called for the responses as he decides whether the plan covering dam operations, habitat improvements, hatchery operations and predator control meets Endangered Species Act requirements to restore threatened and endangered salmon to healthy populations.

The plan submitted by NOAA Fisheries last month increased monitoring and research, set new trigger levels, and restored consideration of removing four dams on the Snake River in Eastern Washington as a last resort.
Redden has twice ruled earlier plans violated the Endangered Species Act, and has threatened to take over management of the dams if the new one does the same.

Attorneys for the state of Oregon wrote that they had hoped to see a plan that placed the burden of success on the source of harm to salmon, the dams themselves.

"But instead, after tinkering with its position for close to five months, the new Administration responds by steadfastly clinging to Bush-era policies, and once again choosing ongoing hydrosystem operations over the protection of threatened and endangered fish."

Attorneys for the Nez Perce Tribe characterized the proposal to consider breaching dams if all else fails as cynical.
"Federal Defendants have created a contingency that can never be evaluated on a purely biological basis, that will remain politically paralyzed, and that will never be deployable in time to be of value to any species," they wrote.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company



October 5th, 2009
The Mountain Culture: Salmon Advocates Take It to the House
Posted by Emily Nuchols

Today a group of salmon stakeholders from across the nation will take to the halls of Congress to urge representatives to support the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act. The bill would provide Congress and federal agencies with up-to-date, thorough information about how best to protect and restore wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia and Snake River Basin.

“We’re talking about much more than a fish here. This is my job and thousands of others. It’s an iconic species and a way of life,” said Jeff Hickman, a Northwest steelhead guide and regional conservation organizer for the Sierra Club. “The Obama administration missed a great opportunity to restore a river, recover healthy salmon and steelhead populations, and protect countless jobs and a strong salmon economy. We’re disappointed, but we have hope and that’s why we’re here. There is strong support in the region for a bold solution to this crisis, and we don’t have the time for more political side-stepping. We need to meet this challenge head on, and that starts with the studies and actions in this bill.”

Hickman joined more than 115 outdoor and fishing business leaders this summer in a letter asking Congress to act on legislation that will help bring about a durable resolution to the longstanding challenge of salmon recovery. Patagonia helped spearhead the letter.

“Conservation is a core priority for the outdoor industry, and wild salmon play an important role in the recreation economy. We simply can’t afford to lose them,” said Lisa Pike-Sheehy, Patagonia’s director of environmental initiatives. “We need updated, comprehensive and unbiased information so we can evaluate, on a level playing field, all potential salmon recovery options, including lower Snake River dam removal. We applaud the members of Congress supporting this bill.” Patagonia has long supported restoring a free-flowing Snake River to recover salmon and steelhead, including sockeye salmon, which the company recently featured in its Freedom to Roam Campaign.

The solutions legislation comes at an opportune time. Last month, the Obama administration adopted a flawed Bush administration Columbia-Snake salmon plan that does nothing to recover endangered fish. While the fate of that plan lies in the hands of a U.S. District Court judge, the salmon community is not waiting to push for Congressional solutions to protect and recover Snake River populations.

Follow Save Our Wild Salmon on Twitter to keep up to date on salmon solutions from Washington, D.C. Save Our Wild Salmon will be live-blogging and tweeting from Capitol Hill next week.

Emily Nuchols sometimes can be found modeling in a salmon suit, but spends the majority of her time working to remove the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington to give both salmon and people a river to run in. Visit www.wildsalmon.org.



October 1st, 2009
SOS Blog: We need to ensure salmon recovery, not an “insurance policy”
by Bobby Hayden

On healthcare, the Obama administration’s current call for change is based on the notion that doing nothing means Americans will continue to pay the price – in both cost and quality of care. That we can all agree upon. Unfortunately this notion is not being applied in the Northwest to the administration’s new plan for Columbia and Snake River salmon. After roughly $10 billion in American taxpayer and Northwest energy ratepayer money spent on measures that have brought wild salmon and the salmon economy no closer to lasting recovery, it’s time for a new direction.

The federal government has called their latest plan for Columbia and Snake Rivers an “insurance policy” for salmon. While this new health care messaging is clever, the truth is the plan will continue the same system that has kept wild salmon on life-support for two decades. In their plan, NOAA Fisheries has included a suite of contingencies for salmon based on “significant decline triggers” (levels that would trigger action). Based on the numbers, however, salmon returns would have to get dangerously low for several years running before any initial actions are taken. And none of these initial actions include a substantive look at real changes to the biggest killers of juvenile salmon: the dams.

So basically, we know your arteries are clogged and your blood pressure is skyrocketing but we’ll just wait until you’re going into cardiac arrest before you go into surgery… for a knee replacement.

According to officials at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the agency in charge here), the plan will “prevent further declines.” Aspiring to prevent further declines? We already have thirteen populations of salmon and steelhead officially at risk of extinction under the Endangered Species Act. This plan, at its very best, promises only to stabilize the already severely depressed populations. There’s no game plan here to position these fish for actual recovery in the future, and that should be unacceptable to those of us who care about salmon, about smart public policy, and about sound science.

NOAA has announced that it will use the same exact jeopardy standard developed by the Bush administration. This meager benchmark could be met if only one additional fish returns to spawn compared with the previous year. Make no mistake: if upheld, this plan will weaken the Endangered Species Act and the result will set a clear – and harmful -- precedent across the country. The future of efforts nationwide to restore ecosystems and imperiled wildlife, and to hold the federal government and private industry accountable, is at stake.

But this isn’t just about the law; it’s about jobs too. By striving to only "prevent further declines," this plan will leave fishermen along the West Coast in dry dock, tackle and fly shops struggling or closing, and fishing guides out of work. Many other businesses in the Northwest, while not directly tied to salmon, will feel the hit as well. Fishing communities have already made big sacrifices and suffered tremendous job losses to compensate for the dams' deadly impacts in the Columbia-Snake Basin, and this "new" plan includes no promise of actions that could lead to the actual recovery of healthy, abundant, and fishable populations.

At best, the Obama administration’s plan protects the current status quo - depressed salmon populations threatened with extinction and a depressed salmon economy with communities struggling to get by. Rather than an “insurance policy” that only kicks in once salmon populations are in the ICU, how about ensuring healthy and abundant salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers for future generations? Our region’s communities deserve a way forward that gives salmon - and the salmon economy - a plan not for relapse, but real and lasting recovery.

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, it’s partner groups, and thousands of advocates around the country will continue to encourage the establishment of a truly inclusive collaborative process that includes all the interests who have been involved in this debate for the last two decades. A science-driven stakeholder negotiation process represents our best opportunity to develop a cost-effective, biologically-sound salmon restoration plan that is durable, works for both salmon and people, saves money, and creates good family-wage jobs in areas like fishing, clean energy, and construction.

Bobby Hayden is the Western Regional Representative for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. He splits time between Eugene and Portland, Oregon.



September 27th, 2009
Killer whales love to dine on chinook salmon, which could further endanger their future
By Joe Rojas-Burke, The Oregonian

Turns out the killer whales off the San Juan Islands are picky eaters. They prefer a meal of chinook salmon to anything else — and it could further endanger them. They compete with sport and commercial fishermen, and tribes for the prized fish, whose numbers have steeply declined.

Killer whales attack prey as large as gray whales and as small as herring. But the killer whales of the San Juan Islands prefer to eat chinook salmon -- and that could be their ruin.

Researchers tracking the whales found their numbers fell sharply during the chinook salmon decline in the 1990s. Even though seals, sea lions and even other kinds of salmon and fish remained relatively abundant, the San Juan whales died at unusually high rates, probably from malnutrition.

The new findings highlight how animal behavioral traditions, passed from adults to offspring, can be more powerful than genetics. The study also shows the whales depend on chinoook salmon more than wildlife managers recognize.

And the findings, researchers say, may strengthen the case for imposing additional limits on salmon fishing to sustain the whales, protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"It's going to be important to work with the salmon managers to make sure there are enough chinook for the whales," says study co-author John Ford, a whale research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in British Columbia.

The deep, saltwater straits dividing Vancouver Island and the San Juans are home to two endangered groups of killer whales, or orcas: the northern and southern residents.

Whale numbers sank to critical lows in the 1970s, after years of human abuse. Dozens of calves were captured for display at private marine parks from 1964 until 1976. Pollutants dumped in the Puget Sound and other waterways probably increased deaths and reduced fertility (the southern whales are among the most PCB-contaminated marine mammals in the world). And a century of declining salmon runs drastically reduced their preferred food.

Researchers counted 85 southern resident killer whales in the most recent census, down from nearly 100 in the mid-1990s. The northern resident population, at about 250, remains more stable.

Killer whales form tight-knit societies. Among the resident killer whales, even adult males stick with their mothers for life. Within clans, individuals call to each other in local dialects.

Clans also develop specialized hunting. The northern and southern residents hunt salmon and other fish but no marine mammals. A separate clan, ransient killer whales that spend time in the same waters, hunt seals and sea lions but not fish.

"As a species, the animal can take virtually anything it wants in the ocean, from the largest whales to the smallest schooling fish," Ford says. "But these animals are creatures of tradition. They learn as a calf what constitutes food and how to catch it."

And chinook salmon compose more than two-thirds of the diet of resident killer whales, according to previous studies. But researchers didn't know if the whales would switch to other prey in times of shortage.

In the new study, Ford and colleagues looked at records on whale death rates and population swings over the past 25 years. Whale numbers increased until 1995, then crashed. Over the next six years, the southern resident population plunged 17 percent, and the northern residents fell 8 percent.

Rising death rates coincided with steep declines in chinook salmon off Oregon and Washington, where in lean winter months the resident whales travel widely in search of prey.

Killer whales survival abruptly improved after a climate shift set the stage for stronger chinook salmon returns in 2002. Both the southern and northern resident killer whale populations are now growing again. Ford, with Kenneth Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., and two other colleagues reported the findings this month in the online edition of the journal Biology Letters.

While biologists have watched the killer whales hunt other fish when chinook aren't available, researchers say the whales fail to get enough nutrients and energy from smaller, less oil-rich, or harder-to-catch fish. Malnutrition, combined with the immune-suppressing effects of PCBs and related pollutants, could have boosted death rates, the researchers say.

Some people who fish salmon for a living aren't convinced they need to share more fish with whales. They've already endured severe limits on commercial salmon trolling off Oregon in recent years to relieve pressure on endangered salmon stocks.

Darus Peake, a fisherman in Garibaldi and chairman of the Oregon Salmon Commission, says bans on fishing are politically easy, but less effective than removing dams, cleaning up decades of pollution and stopping logging and development along rivers.

"While I feel for the plight of the orcas, we're both in this together," Peake says. "Until we as a society go back and fix these rivers where the problem starts, we're all in trouble."

Fishery managers say figuring out how to allocate salmon to the killer whales would be enormously complicated. Because the whales prey on chinook that spawn in rivers from California to British Columbia, decisions would have to include two countries, numerous tribes with treaty rights to the salmon, as well as commercial and sport fishermen.

Gary Wiles, a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, says Ford's study provides strong evidence that the survival of the killer whales depends largely on restoring chinook salmon runs.

"The case they make here is quite compelling," says Wiles, co-author of the federal recovery plan for the endangered southern resident whales. But he says figuring out a way to divide up the fish among so many interests won't be easy.

"With the overall decline of chinook stocks," he says. "it really becomes a problematic thing to throw into the mix."

Joe Rojas-Burke: 503-412-7073, joerojas@news.oregonian.com




September 23rd, 2009
Judge asks for responses to Obama salmon plan
By Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

A federal judge wants to hear what critics think of the Obama administration's plan for Northwest salmon.

In a letter today, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden says the State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe and salmon advocates, who are fighting the plan in Judge Redden's court, can file responses to it by October 2.

The administration will then have two weeks to submit its reply to those responses.

Last week, the administration revealed how it thinks it can run the region's system of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin without pushing protected fish closer to extinction.

Most of the basin's states and tribes support the plan, but the administration must convince Judge Redden it meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.



September 23rd, 2009
Obama science goes schizophrenic on salmon restoration
By Daniel Jack Chasan

A Biological Opinion factors in the effect of climate change on California salmon runs and the orcas that depend on them. So why is the recent BiOp by NOAA on the Columbia and Snake so oblivious?

Has the Obama administration gone schizophrenic on salmon? Wild-salmon advocates who were disappointed when the Obama administration defended the last Bush Biological Opinion on Columbia River dam operations say that the government not only could have done better, it did better, just a few months back. They point to the government's recent Biological Opinion on operation of the Central Valley Project and California State Water Project as examples of what NOAA should have done here.

The California opinion looks at impacts on salmon and other fish in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems, and on the Southern Resident Killer Whales (aka Puget Sound orcas) that eat some of those salmon. It is “better and I would say significantly better” than what the government has done on the Columbia, says Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. It's “not necessarily a road map” for dealing with all the Columbia's particular problems, but it does address some crucial issues “probably in the best way we know how.” You can expect salmon advocates to use some of the approaches and some of the science that NOAA employed in California to attack what NOAA has done — or failed to do — in the Northwest.

Arguably, nothing much has changed scientifically or politically since the first Snake River salmon populaton was listed in 1991, except that there have been more listings, fewer salmon, and some shuffling of the political deck chairs. But there are two major new considerations: the acceptance of climate change coupled with the recognition that many spawning streams may become too warm for salmon; and the listing of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) coupled with a recognition that their survival is tied closely to that of chinook salmon, the whales' favorite food. The Central Valley BiOp prepared by the Obama administration takes both of those factors prominently into account. The Columbia River BiOp defended by the Obama administration does not.

The government's proposals for recovering salmon in California “stand out in stark contrast” to its proposals for the Columbia, says Mashuda. He finds the difference “most perplexing.”

On June 4, NOAA announced <http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2009/20090604_biological.html> that it had “released its final biological opinion . . . that finds the water pumping operations in California’s Central Valley by the federal Bureau of Reclamation jeopardize the continued existence of several threatened and endangered species. . . . Federal biologists and hydrologists concluded that current water pumping operations . . . should be changed to ensure survival of winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, the southern population of North American green sturgeon, and Southern Resident killer whales, which rely on Chinook salmon runs for food.” The agency was not recommending a cost-free approach, or one that had any chance of avoiding litigation. It observed that “changing water operations will impact an estimated 5 to 7 percent of the available annual water on average moved by the federal and state pumps.”

In the weeks before  NOAA Fisheries formally embraced the Bush BiOp on the Columbia, groups of scientists wrote to NOAA chief Jane Lubchenko and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke urging a different approach — an approach much like the one they had already taken farther south.

A group of orca scientists including Kenneth Balcomb executive director of the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor, and Samuel Wasser, director, of the U.W.'s Center for Conservation Biology, focused on climate change and killer whales. Climate change models suggest that within a few decades, Northwestern and California weather will make some spawning streams too warm for anadromous fish. In general, higher places stay cooler, so habitat at the highest elevations will probably have the coolest water. As a long-term strategy for California, NOAA Fisheries told the federal Bureau of Reclamation to come up with ways to get fish into the habitat above Shasta and Folsom dams.

By contrast, the orca scientists wrote, the Columbia River BiOp, “fails to account for the impacts of climate change on Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead. While the BiOp generally concedes that climate change will likely affect Columbia Basin salmon, it also assumes that the Pacific Northwest’s climate conditions will be no worse than conditions experienced in a “base period” of 1980 to 2001. As you know, this assumption runs counter to the conclusions of scientific bodies ranging from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board. . . . It also contrasts sharply with NOAA’s approach in the 2009 [Central Valley] BiOp. In fact, the 2009 BiOp employed detailed Snake River [emphasis added] climate scenarios to illustrate the range of potential consequences of climate change on California salmonids.”

In the Columbia River basin, a lot of high-elevation habitat lies in Idaho wilderness above the lower Snake River dams. Salmon advocates suggest that this strengthens the case for breaching those dams. Government spokespeople — and Governor Chris Gregoire <http://columbian.com/article/20090917/NEWS02/709179949/> — say that the administration has just put dam breaching back on the table. Maybe it has — the judge made it clear that he wanted breaching included, just in case — but at best, the option lies so far back on the table that no one can reach it in a hurry. “I don't think it's really putting dam breaching back on the table,” Mashuda says. The government won't have a breaching strategy ready to go. All the government promises, he suggests, is that “'if fish populations crash, we'll make a plan to do a study.'”

The Central Valley opinion also took a hard look at the impact of depleted chinook salmon populations on Southern Resident Killer Whales Everybody knows that Puget Sound orcas eat chinook salmon, and they swim all the way down to Monterrey Bay to get them. The Columbia River BiOp doesn't deny or ignore that. It just reasons that orcas don't care whether the fish they eat are wild or hatchery-raised, that hatcheries will make up for the chinook lost at the dams, and that therefore, the orcas won't suffer. “They're sticking with the 'no harm, no foul' approach,” Mashuda says, “even though they rejected that approach on the Sacramento."

If both orcas and their prey are on the endangered species list, Mashuda observes that NOAA is starting from “a degraded baseline that is not, by definition, supporting a sustainable whale population.” Just keeping the orca population where it is won't be good enough. It has to grow. And more killer whales will require more salmon. You can't get there from here if all you do is hold salmon numbers steady by pumping more fish from the hatcheries. “The NOAA Recovery Plan anticipates that SRKWs would be considered recovered when they reach about 100 adults,” the orca biologists wrote Locke and Lubchenko, “although as you are well aware, a population of that size is normally considered critically endangered. Even this minimal level of recovery would require a doubling in prey availability range-wide.”

And it turns out that chinook aren't interchangeable.  Columbia River salmon may be better. The scientists noted that “with the decline of Columbia River salmon, the Fraser River system has become the major source of prey for SRKWs. These salmon acquire high levels of industrial toxins during the early part of their time at sea spent in the contaminated waters of Puget Sound and Georgia Basin. The Sacramento River was another important source of prey for SRKWs, and SRKWs still carry the agricultural toxins from these fish. So not only is the Columbia Basin the river system with the biggest potential for producing the Chinook salmon needed to recover SRKWs, the fish produced there may be cleaner than fish produced in the Fraser or Sacramento.”

The orca scientists argued that the Columbia River BiOp “simplistically relies on a flawed comparative approach to evaluating the dams’ impacts on SRKWs.” They wrote: “To gauge the effects of the Columbia/Snake hydro system on Southern Residents, [the BiOp] asks only whether the percentage of salmon killed by the dams will be offset by the number of salmon produced in the Basin’s federally funded hatcheries. After finding that the hatcheries will produce more salmon than the dams kill, NOAA concludes . . . that the dams 'are not likely to adversely affect' Southern Residents." The BiOp, they continue, “does not examine whether the current salmon population is adequate for SRKW recovery, it does not assess whether changes in the spatial or chronological distribution of hatchery fish align with orcas’ needs, and it does not assess the risks to salmon or orcas posed by long-term reliance on hatcheries."

In contrast, the orca scientists go on, “NOAA takes a very different — and appropriately cautious — approach in its recent Biological Opinion for the Central Valley Project. There, NOAA first finds that it is not clear whether present salmon abundance in the ocean is sufficient even to sustain the current depleted orca population. NOAA . . . finds that changes in either prey availability or prey density that decrease foraging efficiency, and could thus reduce the reproductive capacity of even one orca, would jeopardize the SRKW population. Significantly, as in the 2008 [Columbia River] BiOp, NOAA determines that hatchery production included in the Project would more than offset the number of salmon killed by the Project; however, in the [Central Valley] BiOp, NOAA . . . finds that reliance on long-term hatchery production poses unacceptable risks to both salmon and orcas.”

How can one defend both approaches simultaneously, much less do it in the name of science? The Central Valley BiOp came out in June, just as the Obama Administration was "reviewing" and "strengthening" the Columbia/Snake BiOp. “How can they possibly defend the science that lies behind their 'not likely to affect' determination regarding orcas, in light of the science that they published [in the Central Valley BiOp] during this review period?” asks Save Our Wild Salmon's associate director, Dan Drais. “How can NOAA say that it has 'strengthened' this BiOp when the agency has employed lower standards in it than in other . . . documents it was simultaneously finalizing? Now that Lubchenco has taken ownership of the new plan, it's not that Obama's science conflicts with Bush's science — Obama's science conflicts with Obama's science.”



September 16th, 2009
KPLU: Swift and Passionate Reaction to Obama Salmon/Dams Plan
by Tom Banse

OLYMPIA, WA (N3) - The Obama Administration has finally laid its cards on the table for Northwest dams and endangered salmon. The new administration wants to largely maintain the course set under the Bush Administration. But it opened the door just a crack for dam removal on the lower Snake River. KPLU's Tom Banse reports on the passionate reaction.

The Obama team created a good measure of suspense and trepidation by taking all spring and summer to review a 2008 Bush-era plan for Northwest salmon and dams. The end result is a document that in so many words says the region is on the right track to save its iconic salmon and steelhead. The new administration's point person on this is Commerce undersecretary Jane Lubchenco. She told reporters on a conference call that the plan with some tweaks should pass judicial muster.

Jane Lubchenco: "Our determination is that the whole package that was submitted to the judge is indeed biologically and legally sound."

The recovery plan would increase the already high spending to save Northwest salmon by another 100 million dollars per year. Bonneville Power Administration chief Steve Wright says the lion's share of that cost is folded into wholesale electric rates. That eventually filters down to your electric bill.

Steve Wright: "With a solid plan and an approach to address uncertainties in place, our hope is to focus on implementation rather than preparing for the next court appearance."

The Obama Administration puts removal of four dams on the lower Snake River on the table, but calls that "an action of last resort." Breaching those dams is a top priority of salmon advocates. The Sierra Club's Bill Arthur was dismayed after he read the details.

Bill Arthur: "They only ask for a plan to study how we would evaluate whether or not to do dam removal. That would happen seven years down the road. It doesn't make anything happen. It certainly doesn't make anything happen in a timely way."

A group representing Northwest river users such as shippers and ports does not find it particularly threatening to crack open the door to dam removal. Glenn Vanselow directs the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

Glenn Vanselow: "Our view is that they're not likely to find that dam breaching will be beneficial. That has been the case over and over as the federal government has reviewed it many times in the past."

The new administration in the other Washington does not have the last word on river operations. All eyes now turn to the courtroom of federal district judge James Redden. He's thrown out two previous river management plans. Spokane author and analyst Mike Barenti says the Obama team didn't fundamentally change course in this latest plan, but clearly throws some bones to the judge.

Mike Barenti: "Particularly, he's talked about dam breaching. It appears he wants some alternatives. You know, what would it take to breach the dams? I think even the mention of dam breaching probably came in because it's something the judge has talked about so it's something the government has to address."

Barenti guesses the federal judge doesn't want to take control and manage the Columbia and Snake Rivers himself. But the author suggests it would be "a fool's errand" to predict how the judge will rule next. There's no deadline for a verdict. I'm Tom Banse in Olympia. © Copyright 2009




September 15, 2009
Northwest Environmentalists: Obama Plan Fails To Help Salmon
By Dennis Newman

That loud noise you’re hearing this afternoon?  It’s a giant Bronx cheer from salmon advocates to the Obama Administration.

The environmental community’s review of the new recovery plan for Northwest salmon is all bad.  To make things worse, the decision comes from an administration that was supposed to be friendlier to the environmental agenda.  Instead, the Obama plan mostly sticks to a 2008 document that was written by the Bush Administration.

As one blogger succinctly put it, “Meet the new boss: same as the old boss“.

Maybe not exactly the same, the Obama version does slightly crack open the door on dam removal.  It calls for increased spending on improving salmon habitat.  It also promises closer monitoring of salmon populations and says if they fall below certain “trigger points” then federal agencies will take action to restore fish runs.

Update: For more information about the salmon plan, please see, Obama Salmon Plan: Baby Steps Forward.

But in the words of Save Our Wild Salmon, the changes are “mostly cosmetic”.  The group represents a broad coalition of environmentalists, fishing groups and clean energy advocates.

Quotes from the Save Our Wild Salmon press release show widespread disappointment with the new plan.

“Although the Bush administration is gone, unfortunately it looks like it’s policies will live on for Columbia-Snake salmon. It’s a bit like the Night of the Living Dead, we keep fighting these failed and illegal salmon plans, but they continue to spring back to life.”

-Bill Arthur, Deputy National Field Director, Sierra Club.

“Instead of the actions these fish need, they are offering a plan for more planning and a study for more studying. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their treatment of major changes to the dams and river operations, which are among the most critical issues for salmon survival and recovery. We can do much better.”

-Todd True, attorney for Earthjustice

The Obama team’s refusal to even consider dam removal, except as a last resort, is clearly the top complaint salmon advocates have with the plan.  They believe that the four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state have to come down to protect salmon runs on the whole river.  They say federal agencies are exaggerating on what it would cost to remove the dams and replace them with cleaner sources of energy.

And it’s not just about fish, but also about jobs.  Save Our Wild Salmon says that declining fish runs on the Columbia River have led to the loss of thousands of jobs on the coast, once home to a vibrant commercial fishing industry.  The group warns this plan will lead to further losses.

To be fair, the cause of the decline of the West Coast salmon industry go far beyond the Columbia River.  In recent years, disastrous runs on the Klamath and Sacramento rivers have led to some of the worst salmon fishing seasons in history.  The rivers are under pressure from agricultural groups that have little interest in protecting fish runs.  And unless these rivers recover, the demand to improve salmon numbers in the Columbia and Snake rivers will only increase.




September 15, 2009
Obama speeds effort to save salmon, renews dam-removal option
by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

The U.S. government wants to do more to save Northwest salmon, and faster. And if that doesn't do enough for the imperiled fish, it will consider breaching one or more dams on the Snake River in Washington, sacrificing power production to help fish swim to and from the sea.

The approach announced Tuesday by the Obama administration for the Columbia River basin's 13 federally protected runs of salmon and steelhead largely continues a course set last year: Improve river and habitat conditions for fish throughout Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho, and help them safely pass the dams.

Significantly, the plan doesn't call for removing any dams. But it does restore a Clinton-era provision that was deleted by the Bush administration to open that possibility should the fish slip closer to extinction. Electricity ratepayers in the Northwest have paid most of the roughly $1 billion spent annually in helping the signature species.

The government's intentions Tuesday were hailed as unprecedented by some but mocked by others as a continuance of failing efforts. The state of Oregon said it was disappointed in the White House's review.

The administration's most important audience, however, is a federal judge in Portland who has rejected past federal blueprints to save the fish and must decide whether this one rises to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

Earlier this year, the administration asked U.S. District Judge James Redden for time to review the Bush-era plan before deciding whether to support it. On Tuesday, it said it would.

Most efforts to offset challenges to salmon have centered on habitat restoration, extensive hatchery operations, barging of young ocean-bound fish around dams, and attempts to provide ample cool water for fish while meeting the demands of farms and growing cities.

But in saying it wanted to continue such efforts, and do so faster, the Obama administration added an "insurance plan" that spells out what it will do -- or consider doing -- if salmon, at a fraction of their historic numbers, fail to rebound.

In some instances, that could mean sharply curtailing fishing or taking more aggressive actions to improve water flows at dams. At the extreme end, it could mean dam removal.

"We believe the actions in the plan will prevent further declines, but we've added these contingencies just in case," said Jane Lubchenco, the Oregon marine biologist who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Possible breaching of the Snake River dams remains on the table in this plan, but it is considered a contingency of last resort and would only be implemented if the analysis concludes it would be appropriate and, in fact, beneficial," Lubchenco said.

The government's approach, said Lubchenco, acknowledges scientific uncertainties in trying to mount the largest wildlife rescue endeavor in U.S. history.

"I don't think that it's problematic at all to say we don't have all of the knowledge that we'd like to have," Lubchenco said. "Some things are too new."

One Washington congressman criticized the administration for re-energizing the debate over dam demolition, an issue that has spanned many governors and U.S. presidents.

"It is such a sad, terrible waste that this battle is being reignited, but let there be no doubt that we'll fight to save our dams in every way we can. These dams are here to stay," said Rep. Doc Hastings, whose district includes one of the dams.

But the dam removal provision in Obama's plan released Tuesday is just "an illusion," Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe, said in a statement. The tribe, along with the state of Oregon and a coalition of salmon groups, is challenging the plan in court.

"I'm not sure Mr. Hastings should worry himself so much," said Nicole Cordan, attorney for Save Our Wild Salmon.

As it reviewed the salmon plan this summer, the Obama administration largely ignored the concerns of Oregon and other critics, said Mike Carrier, Gov. Ted Kulongoski's natural resource adviser. Those concerns centered on maintaining river flows to aid fish.

"The things that we've suggested continue to be absent from this plan," Carrier said.

The administration's decision Tuesday to largely uphold the Bush-era blueprint breaks with a pattern from recent months in which federal reviews of Bush environmental policies resulted in their being overturned.

Bush's relaxation of rules governing roadless forests, spotted owl habitat and logging in western Oregon's federal forests has been tossed out.

But when it comes to Columbia basin salmon, "I would say the new guys in town look a lot like the old guys in town, and I don't know if that's enough for Judge Redden or not," said Michael Blumm, an environmental law professor at Lewis & Clark whose former students are involved on both sides of the court dispute over the plan.

The plan released Tuesday promises an additional $40 million for 21 habitat projects in the river estuary, where the massive Columbia meets the sea.

It also ramps up research on how fish are responding to recovery efforts, commits NOAA to building a new mathematical model to predict salmon population trends, and looks more deeply at the role predators and non-native species play in salmon survival.

Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, which funds most of the salmon projects, said the administration's adjustments to the plan would cost an additional $6 million a year on top of the roughly $100 million it already costs to implement.

"We have hopefully reached the end of a long litigation road presided over by this court for nearly a decade, spanning two prior administrations," U.S. attorneys wrote in their court filing Tuesday.

-- Matthew Preusch, mattpreusch@news.oregonian.com, Twitter: @mpreusch


September 5th, 2009
Obama Follows Bush on Salmon Recovery
By WILLIAM YARDLEY

SEATTLE — In its first major effort to address the plight of endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest, the Obama administration on Tuesday affirmed basic elements of a recovery plan set forth last year by the Bush administration.
The announcement angered critics of federal conservation policies, who said the Bush plan did not go far enough in improving fish habitats in the Columbia River basin or water levels in rivers for migrating fish and did not take immediate action to explore whether to remove four dams on the lower Snake River.
Thirteen species of salmon are listed as endangered or threatened, and critics say the new Obama plan, like the Bush one, is too ready to accept only slight gains in their populations, a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Obama administration officials said that while the plan affirmed the scientific and legal basis of the Bush approach, it included revisions that would hasten and expand efforts to improve habitats, monitor any effects of climate change and put in place contingency plans should fish populations “decline significantly.”
The Obama plan leaves open as “a last resort” the possibility of removing dams if certain fish populations decline to historic lows, but even then, critics say, the decision would depend on a multiyear study of whether removing dams would improve salmon populations.
The issue of dam removal has become more complicated as the Obama administration seeks ways to produce clean energy. The dams help provide low-cost hydroelectric power to the region but block salmon and steelhead trout from reaching their historic spawning areas.
“It’s clear that dams provide good clean energy,” said Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversaw the review of the Bush plan. “They allow integration of wind into the grid. It’s not clear what impact their removal would have on salmon, and we believe that removal of them is not necessary in the short term. We want to give these other actions a chance to work.”
Judge James A. Redden of Federal District Court in Oregon is presiding over a legal challenge to federal recovery policies brought by environmentalists, fishermen, the Nez Perce Indian tribe and the State of Oregon.
Judge Redden has rejected two federal plans for restoring salmon in the Columbia basin, one by the Clinton administration and an earlier plan by the Bush administration. He is expected to decide whether to accept the Obama plan within the next several weeks.
Even as some criticized the Obama plan as not going far enough, others said it went too far.
“The extremists who brought this lawsuit may be critical about this plan because dam removal wasn’t delivered on a silver platter with promises of wrecking balls arriving next week, but they got what they wanted from the Obama administration, and they’ll try and convince Judge Redden to give them even more,” said Representative Doc Hastings, a Republican who represents part of eastern Washington.
Mike Carrier, the natural resources policy director for Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski of Oregon, a Democrat, said the Obama administration had “wisely” chosen to reverse some of the Bush administration’s environmental policies but in the case of salmon recovery was “fundamentally still embracing” the Bush approach.
Nicole Cordan, the policy and legal director for Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition that includes many of the plaintiffs in the case, said, “Yes, dam breaching is on the table, but the table is over the river and through the woods and 1,000 miles away.”
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

September 15, 2009.
Obama sticks with the Bush approach on Columbia River salmon
Salmon advocates had expected a move toward study of breaching dams as a remedy for declining runs on the Snake and Columbia. Instead, they got a "split-the-baby" decision that may please neither side of this hot political issue.
By Daniel Jack Chasan
Surprisingly to environmentalists, the Obama administration has embraced the Bush administration's science and its novel interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. Tuesday (Sept. 15) morning, after months of delay, NOAA Fisheries filed an adaptive management plan to convince U.S. District Judge James Redden that it can make the Bush administration's 2008 biological opinion on operation of the federal Columbia River dam system work.
Last year, salmon advocates moved for a preliminary injunction against putting that BiOp into effect. The motion was stayed, pending consultation between the government and the various interested parties. There wasn't much consultation after the Obama administration came in. Plaintiffs figured the government had already made up its mind. Now we know what it has made up its mind to do.
The plaintiffs are not impressed. Earthjustice said in a press release that the federal government will “continue to support an old Bush-era federal salmon plan, with only minor, cosmetic changes. The decision includes support for the Bush-era scientific analysis, legal standard, and disregard for the impacts of dam operations and climate change on salmon.”
“The new administration has kept the 2008 Bush salmon plan intact,” said Michael Garrity , Washington Conservation Director for American River. Garrity said the administration's approach “sets the bar so low that many Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead runs will remain at a high risk of extinction. . . . Our hope is that Judge Redden will see this insufficient plan for what it is and reject it, spurring the administration and congressional leaders to convene real salmon recovery negotiations with people in the region.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government must avoid actions that would jeopardize the recovery of a listed species. If you want to avoid jeopardy, explains Todd True, managing attorney of Earthjustice's Northwest office, “you have to have success, not just avoid catastrophic failure.” The government suggests that if catastrophic faillure seems imminent, it will make a plan. It proposes indicators of failure, but not benchmarks for success. Even at that, True says, the new strategy “doesn't really address the fundamental question of what actions are we going to take if the plan is not succeeding.”
Redden has implied that if he is forced to rule on this BiOp, he'll toss it just as he did the BiOps issued in 2000 and 2004. This is actually BiOp number five since the first Snake River salmon population was listed in 1991. One was tossed by another judge. One was explicitly short-term and was withdrawn. The 2000 BiOp acknowledged that business as usual would jeopardize recovery of the fish. Redden tossed it too, because it relied on habitat improvements and other measures that weren't “reasonably certain to occur.” The 2004 version theorized that the dams had become part of the river's environmental baseline, so the government didn't have to consider their effects. That novel theory had no basis in law, and Redden tossed it, too.
Last year, the Bush Administration produced a BiOp that said as long as listed salmon populations were “trending toward recovery,” the federal action would comply with the Endangered Species Act. “Trending toward recovery” had no basis in law, either. No one was entirely certain what it meant. Presumably, one more fish in a population that still fell thousands short of viability would meet the standard.
Once again, the judge was skeptical. “I still have serious reservations about whether the 'trending toward recovery' standard complies with the Endangered Species Act, its implementing regulations, and the case law,” Redden wrote the attorneys in May. “Even if 'trending toward recovery' is a permissible interpretation of the jeopardy regulation,” Redden wrote, “the conclusion that all 13 species are, in fact, on a 'trend toward recovery' is arbitrary and capricious. . . .”Redden's reasons for considering it arbitrary and capricious include:
“(1) Federal Defendants improperly rely on speculative, uncertain, and unidentified tributary and estuary habitat improvement actions to find that threatened and endangered salmon;
“(2) Federal Defendants' own scientists have concluded that many of the proposed estuary mitigation measures (and the assumed benefits) are unsupported by scientific literature;
“(3) Federal Defendants assign implausible and arbitrary numerical survival improvements to tributary habitat actions, even though they have not identified specific habitat actions beyond 2009, and there is no scientific data to support those predictions; . . .”
Nevertheless, the Obama administration has clung to “trending toward recovery.” It will simply do more studies to see if the Bush plan works and more contingency plans to keep salmon from going down the drain if it doesn't. The “Administration believes that while the science underlying the 2008 BiOp is fundamentally sound, there are uncertainties in some of the predictions regarding the future condition of the listed species. Further contributing to these uncertainties is the Administration’s understanding about how climate change may affect these species and their habitats. The Administration also identified the need to better understand the impact of invasive species and predators on the listed species, as well as the interactions among the listed species. In light of these uncertainties, the Administration believes these issues would be addressed by accelerating and enhancing existing RPA mitigation actions; collecting more data and improving analytic tools to better inform future adaptive management decision-making; and adding new biological triggers that when tripped will activate near- and long-term contingency.“
The feds had better hope that's good enough, because Redden has made it clear that he doesn't want to see a sixth Biological Opinion. “I have no desire to remand this biological opinion for yet another round of consultation,” Redden wrote the attorneys in February. “The revolving door of consultation and litigation does little to help endangered salmon and steelhead."
More recently, he wrote: “We simply cannot afford to waste another decade."
The big question was whether or not the administration would explicitly consider breaching the lower Snake River dams. This has been the heart of the conflict all along. Redden pointed out that the 2008 Biological Opinion “does not articulate a rational contingency plan for threatened and endangered species in the event that the proposed habitat improvements and other remedial actions fail to achieve the survival benefits necessary to avoid jeopardy.”
In case of such failure — which salmon advocates consider inevitable — Redden proposed “developing a . . . plan to study specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns, as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail.”
That's what the government has proposed — sort of. It wants to make a plan to make a plan. It wouldn't actually study dam breaching unless things got really bad, but it would basically figure out how to do the study, just in case: “a science-driven study of dam breaching is included as a potential Long-term Contingency Action. By March 2010, the Corps will develop a study plan regarding the scope, schedule and budget for the technical studies that would be needed. Within six months of a Significant Decline Trigger being tripped for a Snake River species, the Corps would initiate those technical studies, if an All-H Diagnosis is completed that concludes dam breaching is necessary to address and alleviate the biological trigger conditions for the applicable Snake River species.”
This probably won't placate people on either side. Eastern Washington Congressman Doc Hastings said this spring that “Dam removal would have devastating consequences on our region’s economy. It would cost thousands of jobs.” Therefore, “dam removal should not be put back on the table in any form, not even as a contingency plan.”
Hastings' public position hasn't changed. Congressman Jim McDermott has introduced a bill that would order the Secretary of Commerce to ask the National Academy of Sciences to analyze the government's salmon recovery efforts, including at a minimum, a review of Snake River dam removal and other actions that may be necessary to achieve recovery of salmon and steelhead populations of the Columbia and Snake River Basin.” The secretaries of Transportation and Energy would have to produce peer-reviewed reports on what infrastructure would be needed for “a cost-effective and efficient transportation system for agricultural and other shippers” and what “energy replacement options exist” if the Lower Snake River dams were to come down.
Oregon Representative Earl Blumenthal has signed on, but virtually none of the two dozen other co-sponsors has a dog in the fight. Hastings, who does, remains dead set against even taking a scientific look at the issue. “One of the first places this dam removal bill will land in Congress is on my desk as the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee,” Hastings said, “and I pledge to do everything in my power to stop it.”
Representatives of some plaintiff groups have said they're not stuck on breaching per se. They'd settle for a commitment to science. They assume that a truly unbiased look at the subject will lead to breaching, anyway. “In my mind, actually, those two things are one and the same,” says Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. “If you let science drive [the process,] breaching will automatically be on the table.” Others suggest that for a president who promised to let good science serve as a basis for policy, the Bush BiOp should be an embarassment.
The administration doesn't seem embarrassed. Did Gary Locke's Commerce Department try to split the baby, giving sops to both sides? “I don't think they've gotten anywhere close to that,” True says. “If splitting the baby means doing half of what the salmon need, this doesn't come close.”
Daniel Jack Chasan is an author, attorney, and writer of many articles about Northwest environmental issues. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.
View this story online at: http://crosscut.com/2009/09/15/science-environment/19237/

September 13, 2009
What is Obama's plan for the Northwest's imperiled salmon?
by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

More than a century ago, the Columbia River and its tributaries so roiled with wild salmon it was said that in places you could walk across the water on their backs.

No more. Canneries, mining, cities and many dams later, it's all changed. Generations have argued about how to bring the fish back from the edge of extinction. More than $1 billion a year is spent trying, but there are no more fish returning to the river now than there were two decades ago.

What's holding the fish back?

On Tuesday, the Obama administration will reveal how it thinks we can have the many hydroelectric dams that bring us cheap power, navigation routes and flood control without pushing salmon past the brink.

But dams aren't the only suspect. A changing climate, warmer water, competition from nonnative fish, outdated hatchery operations -- all have been blamed at one time or another for the decline of the Northwest's signature fish.

Many hope the new administration -- with Oregon ecologist Jane Lubchenco leading its top fisheries agency -- will hasten a productive change in the nation's most expensive species recovery conundrum.

"The phase we're stuck in now is the dithering phase, and it's a difficult phase because we are going to have to reallocate resources. And that takes political courage," said Michele DeHart, director of the federally funded Fish Passage Center.

The administration has until Tuesday to explain to U.S. District Court Judge James Redden how its plan to offset the damage done to fish from federal power-producing dams differs substantially from the approach employed by the Bush administration -- an approach that Redden has attacked, in his court, as inadequate.

Redden outright rejected previous plans, called biological opinions, in 2000 and 2004.

The administration Tuesday will announce its revisions to a plan released last year.

That plan won broad support among most Northwest tribes and states, key parties to repairing the Columbia's salmon runs. Tribes alone have treaty rights to the fish.

"There's clearly been an evolution in the government's (Endangered Species Act)-based plan," said John Ogan, an attorney for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs. "It was developed with our input, collaboratively, with really unprecedented public access."

Even so, the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe and conservation groups continue to fight in court, arguing the federal government's approach is illegal and doesn't do enough for fish.
Ty Eaglespeaker fishes the Columbia River for salmon

Based on interviews with those familiar with the Obama administration's discussions, Tuesday's unveiling will not dramatically alter the approach we've known from the previous administration.

"I'm not anticipating an earth shift," said Ed Bowles, fish division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Two weeks ago, federal officials showed their plan to opponents at a secret meeting in Portland. While details are scant, it will likely address specific requests Redden made of the U.S. government earlier this year:

• more money for additional projects to improve fish habitat, and better monitoring and evaluation of those projects;

• independent oversight and court review of those projects;

• the release of more water from upstream reservoirs to increase flow in the Columbia and Snake rivers;

• the continued spilling of extra water over dams for fish headed downstream in the spring and summer months;

• and a contingency plan that could include a serious look at removing four lower Snake River dams, should the above measures fail to reverse the salmon's decline.

It's not clear, however, whether Redden will get all he's asked for or what he'll do. He could rule on the newest U.S. plan right away, seek more information, or order contending parties into a mediated settlement process.

But the key task for Redden is to decide whether federal government's latest approach satisfies requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

"The sense of the (biological opinion) is it's the best available science, which is what the ESA calls for," said Lorraine Bodi, senior policy adviser for fish and wildlife for the Bonneville Power Administration.

Doing what the ESA calls for, however, is getting more expensive all the time -- and with mixed results.

The BPA, which markets power from 31 federal dams, provides the bulk of salmon recovery funds in the Columbia Basin and says it spent $875 million last year on fish and wildlife costs, mostly for salmon.

That figure is controversial. It includes the cost of power sales the BPA couldn't make because of limits to dam operations forced by helping salmon. And it includes power the agency had to buy from out of the region to make up for power lost from its fish program.

The total spent by the agency since 1978 is about $12 billion. That spending shows up in your power bill. About 15 percent, or $11, of the average Nortwesterner's monthly electricity charges goes towards salmon, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which develops the regional strategy to balance fish and power needs.

Over 20 years ago, the council set a goal of doubling the number of salmon and steelhead entering the mouth of the Columbia River from the 2.5 million it was then to 5 million, still only a third to a half of historic runs, estimated at 10 to 15 million.

But the region is no closer to that goal now. And there is still no monitoring program in place to tell whether all the money we're spending and work we're doing is helping.

"The only stocks that are showing better numbers are the Sockeye and the Fall Chinook, and that's because we are flooding the system with baby hatchery fish," said Jim Martin, salmon advisor for former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The prospects for salmon don't look good. Global warming is expected to reduce regional snowpacks, meaning less water in our rivers to carry the salmon to and from the ocean, where they mature.

Increasing human population could continue to erode the habitats of the fish as we build homes, roads and businesses besides the rivers and lakes.

"Fundamentally, salmon need the same things that humans need. So it's a competition, and it's a zero sum game," said Robert Lackey, a former senior fisheries biologist at the Environmental Protection Agency and a professor at Oregon State University.

More recently the council set a deadline for doubling fish runs of 2025, and they are working on developing a uniform monitoring plan for fish across the basin.

But it's anyone's guess when the fish might be healthy enough to come off of the list of endangered species.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, led by Lubchenco, estimates the fish closest to recovery, mid-Columbia steelhead, might be ready to come off the list in 25 to 50 years. And that's if everything goes as planned.

"There are a lot of ifs," Elizabeth Holmes Gaar, NOAA's regional recovery coordinator for salmon, said. She and others caution it will take time to see the benefits of recent work.

"But if we are aggressive about implementing and taking these steps, I believe we can recover these fish," she said.

-- Matthew Preusch; mattpreusch@news.oregonian.com; Twitter: @mpreusch

September 11th, 2009
Idaho Statesman
Rocky Barker's Blog: We see what Obama plans for Columbia and Snake salmon Tuesday

The Obama Administration is expected to roll out its Columbia-Snake River salmon and dam plan Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge James Redden gave the administration another month to seek a consensus on its modifications to the two biological opinions on the dams that was done at the end of the Bush Administration. There have been talks between the two sides and even though a lot of people know some of the details of the plan, they have honored the administration’s request for confidentiality, at least with me.

But I’ve talked to a number of sources on all sides of the issue and here’s what I know. The talks between the Justice Department and the people who are suing, Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe, environmentalists, sporting industry groups and fishermen, did not lead to larger talks with others involved, such as the Columbia tribes, the other Northwest states and utility and barging groups.

That means there won’t be a settlement announced unless something happens this weekend. Don’t hold your breath.

The administration would have had to make major changes in the two biological opinions if it were to meet most of the concerns of the plaintiffs and perhaps Judge Redden. I suspect they would have had to rule that the dams on the Columbia, Snake and their tributaries jeopardize the existence of the 13 stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead.

Then they would have had to prepare a “reasonable and prudent” alternative that would have mitigated the effects of the dam. The Bush administration opinion instead said the dams will not jeopardize the salmon with all of additional efforts they plan including increased spending on habitat improvements, fixing hatcheries, restoring water to salmon spawning streams and other measures through the region.

Redden himself expressed doubts writing in May he believed the biological opinions “fail to satisfy the biological and legal requirements of the Endangered Species Act.” So if the administration was to come back with no changes they could expect a quick decision from Redden to strike them down.

So, there is likely to be some language in the new plan that offers to reconsider breaching four dams on the Snake River if all other measures fail. But I don’t know whether there will be a hard trigger or the necessary up-front studies to determine how it could be done.

I also expect to see additional measures added to improve the quality of the Columbia River estuary since its improvement program was pretty thin when presented earlier this year in court. Redden remained skeptical about what the administration was promising to do for all the inland habitat work it talked about so there might be new financial commitments as well.

There was some independent review of the science on which the plan was based. How that gets reflected in the plan will be critical to how Redden views it.

Another critical issue for Redden is whether the plan reduces spilling water over the dams as it called for in the Bush opinion. That is a major issue because the water spilled doesn’t go through the hydroelectric turbines and reduces revenues for the Bonneville Power Administration by 10s of millions of dollars.

The administration agreed to continue spilling water this year but made no long term commitment. But if it were to keep spill at the current level, all those revenues that also fund a lot of the fish programs would be lost.

So watch for our reports late Tuesday morning. The administration plans to make the plan public at 10 a.m.


September 9, 2009
Fishing Groups Push Sec. Locke On Salmon Populations
BY ROB MANNING
A coalition of seven fishing groups is asking Commerce Secretary – and former Washington governor – Gary Locke, to more directly confront the declines in salmon populations. Rob Manning reports.
The letter asks for a meeting with Secretary Locke.  That would be the first step toward involving fishing groups in a new plan to help depleted West Coast salmon.
This summer, for the second year in a row, almost no coastal salmon fishing was allowed.
Liz Hamilton with the Northwest Sportfishing Association says she’s optimistic that Locke will agree to an inclusive approach to salmon.
Liz Hamilton: “We also know that any solution that excludes key partners such as the fishing community, such as states, such as tribes, such as the conservation community, it isn’t a durable solution.”
Fishing groups will soon get a hint of how the Obama Administration differs from its predecessor on the salmon question.
Next week, federal scientists will present any revisions to their plans for the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Those plans are before a Portland judge.

August 11, 2009
Will Obama “Sell Out” NW Salmon? Enviros Are Worried.
By Dennis Newman

News that the Obama Administration has more time to look over the 2008 Salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers has environmentalists very, very worried.

As we reported last night, the Administration asked U.S. District Court Judge James Redden for another month to review the plan.  The judge agreed to a new deadline of September 15.

But on Tuesday, a coalition of groups led by Save Our Wild Salmon released a statement saying the Administration appears to be headed towards adopting the plan, which was released during the last year of the Bush presidency. It accuses the Obama team of ignoring the concerns of environmentalists, the State Of Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe, and others who oppose the plan. It goes on to say that the Administration is abandoning Obama’s pledge to have science determine policy instead of politics.

“We’re skeptical about their path,” says Nicole Cordan of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition. “Unfortunately, nothing that we’ve heard or seen to date indicates that we’re likely to see anything more than the same general Bush administration salmon plan 30 days from now.”

“It appears that the Obama administration has allowed politics, not science or the law, to guide its salmon decision-making,” adds Steve Mashuda, attorney with Earthjustice. “Unfortunately, it looks like the same decision-making model the Bush administration used — an insular process that tries a few more bells and whistles, but doesn’t result in any real change for fish or the people who depend upon them.”

The coalition, along with Oregon and the Nez Perce, are asking Judge Redden for a status conference on their concerns.  In the filing, they accuse Obama officials of failing to carry out the judge’s order to consult with them, saying there have only been three meetings with the groups opposed to the 2008 Salmon plan.

At the same time, they released documents showing the Administration has met on several occasions with officials from the Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, and NOAA.  These agencies wrote the 2008 plan.  The filing before Redden accuses the agencies of giving the Obama team “one-sided” information and playing down the controversy that surrounds the plan.

Critics of the Salmon recovery effort, officially known as the 2008 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion, say it relies too much on habitat and hatcheries improvements and doesn’t do enough to reduce the harmful impacts of hydropower dams on salmon, steelhead and other endangered species.  Even Judge Redden has suggested the plan needs to be open to the idea of removing dams on the Snake River if other efforts to help salmon don’t work.


August 11, 2009
Oregon and its allies slam Obama's handling of salmon plan
by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian

The state of Oregon and its allies in a lawsuit over the future of Northwest salmon don't like how the Obama administration is handling the issue.

In papers filed in federal court today, the state, environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho say they've been effectively shut out of the administration's deliberations over how to run the region's network of big, power-generating dams without pushing salmon closer to extinction.

The criticism comes from some of the same people who not long ago were applauding the Obama team's entry in the decades-long and multi-billion dollar conundrum surrounding the imperiled and iconic fish.

"It just seems that if the intent was to really sit down with the parties and resolve our differences, there certainly has been little or no significant dialogue between us and the federal agencies to lead us to believe that is happening," said Mike Carrier, Gov. Ted Kulongoski's natural resource advisor.

The state and other groups are suing the federal government over a plan introduced during the Bush administration to operate hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers without violating federal environmental protections for salmon.

Today they asked the judge overseeing the case for a "status conference" to air their concerns.

Federal courts have struck down three previous plans, called biological opinions, and the Portland judge handling the lawsuit over the current one has expressed serious concerns about its legality.

Yesterday, the government asked U.S. District Court Judge James Redden for, and the judge granted, an additional 30 days to finalize its position on the plan.

"Because this process has been inclusive of various parties' concerns from the beginning, in particular the parties to the litigation, we would like to discuss and explain our process and position on the FCRPS BiOp with all of the parties before formally presenting our position to the Court," Coby Howell, an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division, wrote to the judge.

The judge had previously given the administration an additional 45 days in July and early August to review the plan, but Carrier and others now say during that time there has been a dearth of substantive interaction between the federal agencies and their opponents in the lawsuit.

"It has become clear that the unilateral process federal defendants have followed to finalize their decision jeopardizes any opportunity that may remain to resolve this controversy," the documents filed in Redden's court today say.

Opponents of the plan told the judge they think the administration has already decided what its course will be on the salmon plan, and they fear the 30 days the judge granted the government will be used to "sell that decision to political leaders and the public outside this case," the documents say.

"If this administration indeed does what it appears it's about to do, which is adopt this plan with some additional bows and shiny glitter, that is a true message to salmon communities that this administration is not abiding by the science," said Nicole Cordan, attorney for Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of environmental and fishing interests.

Federal fish managers said the plan would not be made public until the new deadline, September 15, and critics should reserve judgment until they see what it includes.

"Things are still being discussed within the federal family," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle.

"We took very seriously Judge Redden's admonition to us to engage in a collaborative discussion with all the parties. We think it worked out remarkably well," said Gorman. "There are some outliers, but everyone anticipated going into this that we would not get agreement from all the parties."

Also Thursday, a group of more than 100 fisheries experts sent letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco asking them to reject the 2008 biological opinion.

"This Bush salmon plan is completely inconsistent with President Obama's public statements about relying on sound science," said Jim Martin, former Chief of Fisheries of the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife and a signatory to the letter.

The letter is the latest in a series of communiques from scientists, senators, editorial writers and others seeking to sway the administration's salmon policy.

-- Matthew Preusch, mattpreusch@news.oregonian.com, Twitter: mpreusch

August 11, 2009
Spokesman-Review: Conservation could provide 85 percent of new power

About 85 percent of the Northwest’s new power needs over the next 20 years can be achieved through conservation, according to a new plan being developed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

Wind and natural gas sources should provide the rest of the new power, the council proposed.

The Portland-based council was created by Congress in 1980 and drafts a regional power plan every five years for Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana. The next one is due by the end of this year.

The council sets policy for the federal Bonneville Power Administration, which sells electricity to 147 of the region’s utilities.

“We have identified immense resources of conservation,” said Tom Karier, a council member from Washington state.  Northwest states are among national leaders in finding cost-effective conservation practices to stretch existing power supply, he said.

The council will debate the plan at its meeting in Spokane, which is due to end Wednesday. Any final decisions must be released to the public for 60 days of comment before a new plan is issued in December.

Among the predictions in the plan:
• Energy efficiency could reduce power use by 5,800 megawatts over the next 20 years, eliminating the need to build more coal plants and thus reducing greenhouse gases.
• A smart grid and other technologies will make the energy system more efficient and decentralized, improving its reliability and safety.
• Plug-in electric vehicles may become part of the energy system, and could be recharged at night and other off-peak times.
• The region will preserve and improve the capability of the hydroelectric system while providing improved conditions for salmon and steelhead migration.

The council said conservation is already the region’s third largest source of power at 12 percent, after hydro (55 percent) and coal (18 percent).
In the past three decades, conservation has allowed the region to reduce power demand by 3,700 megawatts, enough to power three cities the size of Seattle, council spokesman John Harrison said. That eliminated the need to build up to six new power plants, he said.

The new plan envisions the Northwest actually using less power in 10 years than it does now, even as the population rises, he said.

Council member Dick Wallace of Washington said conservation measures cost less than half of what new power generation costs, and they don’t add new carbon emissions.

However, the possible removal of four hydro dams on the Snake River to benefit salmon would likely require new natural gas plants to make up the lost power, Karier said.

August 4, 2009
Rep. McDermott Leads on Salmon Solutions and Planning Act

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI), joined by 23 other Members, introduced the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act just before Congress adjourned for the August district work period.

“The extinction of several species of salmon is not theoretical,” Rep. McDermott said. “Within the next 10 years, several species of Snake River salmon are expected to disappear forever unless we act now to restore and protect salmon and steelhead across the Pacific Northwest.”

The bi-partisan legislation, H.R. 3503, calls for independent and comprehensive studies of the issues affecting salmon recovery efforts, including: scientific analysis of the impact of the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams on salmon protection and restoration; energy replacement alternatives should the four dams be removed; a transportation infrastructure study to determine improvements needed in rail or surface roads; and studying how to protect existing irrigated agricultural lands.

Co-sponsors include Members from across the country:  Rep. Howard Berman (CA), Rep. Lois Capps (CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT), Rep. Sam Farr (CA), Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (RI), Rep. Barbara Lee (CA), Rep. George Miller (CA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY), Rep. John Olver (MA), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR), Rep. John Conyers (MI), Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA), Rep. Bart Gordon (TN), Rep. Michael Honda (CA), Rep. Dale Kildee (MI), Rep. Edward Markey (MA), Rep. James Moran (VA), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Rep. Donald Payne (NJ), Rep. Fortney Pete Stark (CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) and Rep. Robert Wexler (FL).

The legislation already has received endorsements from Save Our Wild Salmon and Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“Doing nothing is an option we cannot afford, economically or ethically,” Rep. McDermott said.  “We know the presence of salmon and steelhead in the Northwest is a significant economic engine driving local economies in communities large and small across the region; we know we have a legal obligation to Native American tribes across the region, which have court-ordered and guaranteed tribal fishing rights; and, we have a responsibility as leaders and citizens to face the facts and act to protect and restore salmon and steelhead runs to healthy, historic levels.”


August 6th, 2009
Idaho Statesman - Letters from the West Blog
Andrus weighs in on salmon and protecting the Columbia Gorge
by Rocky Barker

You may have seen the story about how former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus weighed in against the current Columbia-Snake salmon plan developed in the last years of the Bush Administration. He joined former Democratic governors John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Mike Lowry of Washington in a letter urging President Obama to reject the plan and instead embark on expanded talks.

“We believe the time has come, and is propitious, for settlement talks under the court’s aegis on law and science, and under your leadership for related economic and political issues,” The three Northwest Democrats wrote.

But that wasn’t the only issue Idaho’s former governor and the former Interior secretary got involved in this week. He is leading a coalition of 17 local and national groups urging the Obama administration to deny a casino to a tribe in the scenic Columbia Gorge.

Andrus hand-carried a letter to Washington D.C. addressed to current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and gave it to Larry EchoHawk, head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the former attorney general of Idaho.

"For me, protecting the Gorge is a professional passion," Andrus said in a news release.

Approving the casino in Cascade Locks within the designated national scenic area and a half mile from a protected wilderness boundary, “would destroy one of America’s most treasured landscapes,” Andrus said.

Andrus was born in nearby Hood River, Ore. and has kept his ties to the area.

Andrus also has criticized the Forest Service in the last year for proposing to allow a cell tower at Galena Pass on the edge of the Sawtooth Valley.

The Idaho Democrat gave President Obama a boost when he really needed it in February of 2008, hosting him at the big rally at Boise State, endorsing him and taking on Clinton spokesmen who were dismissing Obama's support in Red states like Idaho. Andrus knows better than any politician that influence is not a zero sum game.

When you have it you have to use it. He has picked his causes carefully.

August 5, 2009
LA TIMES Blog: Ex-Northwest governors call for salmon solutions round table

With just weeks to go before the Obama administration must weigh in on how best to save the dwindling stocks of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, three ex-governors of Oregon, Washington and Idaho are urging abandonment of the business-as-usual plan hatched under former President George W. Bush.

The governors' letter joins a growing chorus of calls for a top-to-bottom new dialogue on salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. More than 20 federal lawmakers just signed on to a bill that would put all options, including removal of four dams on Idaho's Snake River, on the table in an effort to jump-start recovery before there are no salmon left to save.

"We believe your leadership now provides an opportunity to bring fishermen, farmers, energy users and communities together to make real progress on this issue after long years of contention," said the letter to President Obama, signed by John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Mike Lowry of Washington and Cecil D. Andrus of Idaho, the last of whom who is also a former secretary of the Interior.

The new administration has until Aug. 14 to review the biological opinions for recovery of 13 endangered or threatened runs of salmon and steelhead. U.S. District Judge James Redden, who has overseen much of the two decades of litigation on the issue, has already warned he may reject this plan too, if it doesn't look at all the science and at least consider the possibility of breaching the upstream dams.

In another sign that there's more willingness to talk turkey on the Idaho dams, the communities of Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Wash., whose ports only exist because the dams provide passage for barges up and down the river, have said they're ready to talk.

Not that they want to pull down the dams, but they say they want to be included in any meetings about the future of the rivers, and if dam breaching comes to the table, it had better include options for transporting grain and other goods by truck or train instead.

There are still powerful political and economic interests behind leaving the dams in place and allowing the government to proceed with its plan to improve salmon habitat and minimize fish-killing aspects of the dams. Polls show most voters favor keeping all the dams in place.

But the voices for a meaningful discussion that puts everything on the table have never been stronger.

"Each of us dealt with this issue. In addition to conflict and contention, we each found a pragmatic willingness among many in the Northwest to seek alternatives to further gridlock. But for various reasons, the threshold was never passed," the governors wrote.

"Your administration now can provide a key ingredient -- federal leadership -- to match the broad readiness of Northwest citizens to pass that threshold to find a settlement."

-- Kim Murphy


August 4, 2009
The Seattle Times political team explores state, regional and local politics.

Rep. Jim McDermott wants to study Snake River dam removal
Posted by Richard Wagoner

Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott has jumped into the Snake River dam controversy with legislation that calls for studying the impact of removing the four Lower Snake River dams to aid salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin.

"The extinction of several species of salmon is not theoretical," McDermott said in a statement today. "Within the next 10 years, several species of Snake River salmon are expected to disappear forever unless we act now to restore and protect salmon and steelhead across the Pacific Northwest."

According to McDermott's statement:

H.R. 3503 calls for independent and comprehensive studies of the issues affecting salmon recovery efforts, including: scientific analysis of the impact of the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams on salmon protection and restoration; energy replacement alternatives should the four dams be removed; a transportation infrastructure study to determine improvements needed in rail or surface roads; and studying how to protect existing irrigated agricultural lands.

"Doing nothing is an option we cannot afford, economically or ethically," McDermott said.

The bill drew a quick response from Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, a staunch opponent of dam removal.

Hastings said in a statement:

"One of first places this dam removal bill will land in Congress is on my desk as the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, and I pledge to do everything in my power to stop it.

"Dam removal is an extreme action that would have devastating consequences on our region's economy. These four dams are valuable components of the Northwest's clean, low-cost hydropower system that thousands and thousands of jobs rely upon. Dam removal would kill jobs, lead to huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions, and there's no scientific proof that it would actually guarantee salmon recovery."

The bill, called the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act, is cosponsored by 24 other representatives, including Republican Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin.

No other Washington state Congress members have signed on.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

August 4, 2009
The Oregonian: Ex-governors urge White House to address Columbia salmon runs
by Matthew Preusch

Three former Northwest governors are urging the Obama administration to reject a Bush-era plan designed to save the region's salmon.

The letter sent today from John Kitzhaber, Cecil Andrus and Mike Lowry is the latest high-profile plea to the president to engage on the persistent problem.

And a coming court deadline means Obama's salmon policy should be clear soon.

The administration has until Aug. 14 to decide whether to defend, amend or ditch a plan put forward last year to run federal power-producing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers without pushing imperiled salmon closer to extinction.

U.S. District Judge James Redden has hinted that the plan, supported by most Northwest tribes and the state of Washington -- but not Oregon or a coalition of environmental and fishing groups -- may not meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

The plan "is likely to be found illegal if you decide to support it. We urge you not to take that course," wrote Kitzhaber, Andrus and Lowry, the former governors of Oregon, Idaho and Washington, respectively.

The letter echoes recent calls from Idaho's two Republican senators and Oregon's new senator, Democrat Jeff Merkley, for the administration to lead competing regional interests toward an enduring strategy for the 259,000-square-mile Columbia Basin's salmon runs.

Federal courts rejected two earlier plans, called biological opinions, to square the operation of the Northwest's giant hydropower dams with the survival of salmon that must migrate past them. The most recent plan has broader support than past versions.

"We believe that an unprecedented regional consensus has already been reached in this biological opinion, with only a couple of outliers, and that we need to move forward," said Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest River Partners, a coalition of shipping interests, power users and others who support the current plan.

But the state of Oregon and environmental groups have challenged the plan in court, and their hope is the change in administrations might mean its demise.

In May, top administration officials -- including Jane Lubchenco, the former Oregon State University scientist and current head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- visited the Northwest to meet with biologists, dam-operating agencies and politicians about salmon.

But she and others have so far kept quiet on their strategy for the fish, whose recovery costs have run into the billions of dollars.

Redden has said the biological opinion should include a contingency plan to consider breaching four dams on the lower Snake River if wild salmon edge closer to extinction.

That has reopened an old debate over whether dam removal is necessary to save salmon. In 2000, Kitzhaber made headlines by coming out in favor of dam removal as one part of a larger strategy to restore wild salmon.

But the political landscape is different now: More regional leaders say dam removal should at least be on the table. And some businesses in inland ports dependent on the dams are now open to them being removed if it includes support for improving rail and road infrastructure.

"Right now the weak link are the Washington senators, who at best have been silent on this issue," said Nicole Cordan, an attorney for Save Our Wild Salmon, which facilitated the governors' letter to Obama.

The letter doesn't mention the dams, saying only that federal leadership is the missing ingredient to finding a settlement.

"Dialogue among key parties on the salmon, energy, water and job issues at stake here has never entirely died, but it was not a priority for the last administration," the letter says.

Matthew Preusch; mattpreusch@news.oregonian.com


August 3, 2009
The Spokesman Review: McDermott calls for review of salmon recovery
by Becky Kramer / The Spokesman-Review

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott has called for a scientific analysis of the federal government’s Northwest salmon recovery effort, saying that most wild stocks remain at dangerously low levels despite the $8 billion spent on their recovery.

In his proposed “Salmon Solutions and Planning Act,” McDermott would also give the Army Corps of Engineers the authority to breach the four Lower Snake River dams.

McDermott, D-Wash., introduced the legislation Friday with 24 co-sponsors. He’s authored similar legislation in the past, but nothing quite as far-reaching on dam removal.

Mike DeCesare, McDermott’s press secretary, said the legislation aims for a dispassionate, science-based review of the cost and benefits of breaching the dams, which can produce enough electricity to power a city the size of Seattle but are blamed for sharp declines in Snake River salmon and steelhead runs. Many environmental groups, and some scientific studies, support their removal.

“We’re trying to get out of the rhetoric and into the science,” DeCesare said.

The legislation comes just weeks before U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland is expected to rule on the legality of Bush-era salmon recovery plans, which leave the dams intact. Redden has rejected two earlier plans, calling them inadequate.

McDermott’s legislation would provide:

•A National Academy of Sciences analysis of the effectiveness of federal salmon recovery efforts.

•Studies looking at how barge traffic and Snake River irrigators would be affected by the removal of the four dams, and how those impacts could be reduced.

•Options available for replacing electricity from the dams, with a focus on renewable energy sources and conservation.

•Studies on how Lewiston and Clarkston could revitalize their downtown waterfronts if the dams are removed and the water level drops.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., an opponent of dam removal, immediately criticized the bill and said he would fight it in the House Natural Resources Committee, where he is the top Republican.

“Dam removal is an extreme action that would have devastating consequences on our region’s economy,” Hastings said in a statement.

He said dam breaching would lead to thousands of lost jobs and increases in greenhouse gas emissions.


August 3rd, 2009
Idaho Mountain Express: Bill would authorize study of dam removal
By JASON KAUFFMAN

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday aims to recover endangered runs of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin.

The legislation, called the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act of 2009, was introduced by Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Tom Petri, R-Wis. The bill, which is supported by Boise-based Idaho Rivers United, has 23 cosponsors.

"This bill's introduction comes at a critical time in the campaign to recover endangered stocks of Snake and Columbia river salmon and steelhead," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. "Their decline is crippling the Northwest fishing industry and harming regional communities and ecosystems. It's crucial that the Obama administration convene a solutions table that brings together stakeholders to solve this regional catastrophe."

The bill, Sedivy said, would work toward Snake River salmon and steelhead recovery by accomplishing four primary objectives:

* It would authorize the National Academy of Sciences to review recovery actions that may be necessary to recover Columbia-Snake basin salmon, including an analysis of lower Snake River dam removal.
* It would authorize four peer-reviewed studies by federal agencies to examine how to cost-effectively replace the primary services provided by the lower Snake River dams, in the event Congress or the Obama administration determines the dams must be removed.
* It clarifies that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington.
* It directs the Corps to review and update its 2002 feasibility study and Environmental Impact Statement in which it analyzed options for removing the four lower Snake River dams.

Sedivy said the four peer-reviewed studies are an important facet of the legislation. They include analyses on lower Snake River corridor transportation upgrades, energy options, riverfront revitalization and irrigation water supply upgrades that would all be needed if the four dams on the river in eastern Washington are removed, a news release from IRU states.

Adult salmon and steelhead bound for the rivers of central Idaho to spawn, including stocks that end up in the Sawtooth Valley near Stanley, must cross those four lower Snake River dams before entering the state.

July 31st, 2009
Salmon and power interests work the Obama administration behind the scenes

Submitted by Rocky Barker on Fri, 07/31/2009 - 9:07am.

Both sides of the Columbia River salmon debate have people in the Obama administration on which their political hopes rest.

The administration's position is expected to be filed in court Aug. 14 and all sides are jockeying behind the scenes seeking to influence the decision.

For the fishermen, environmentalists, and others who have sued the federal government to block approval of two biological opinions for Columbia and Snake river dams, hopes rest with Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator. The marine biologist from Oregon State University knows the science of the issue and salmon advocates hope that puts her in their court.

For the region's utilities, barge shippers, irrigation farmers and others who support the current biological opinion for 13 stocks of salmon and steelhead, Luchenco's boss Gary Locke, is viewed as in their court. The former Washington governor was the primary voice that kept the Clinton administration from proposing dam breaching in 2000 and is an ally of Sen. Patty Murray, arguably the most powerful politician in the region right now who opposes dam breaching.

The White House Council of Environmental Quality also is a major player.

Ultimately, U.S. District Judge James Redden will have the final say on whatever the administration produces. But he can't order Congress to fund breaching the four dams on the Snake River as salmon advocates seek.

They have been pushing politicians not to call for breaching but instead to support talks between all of the interests involved that keeps all options on the table. They were boosted this spring when Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, a supporter of the current biological opinion and foe to breaching, expressed support for such talks.

This week downstream Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon wrote the administration urging it to support a regional forum. He offered, in the letter that likely had salmon advocates support, a dualistic view of how the salmon issue might be resolved in the region.

"If we make significant changes to the hydropower system that is so important to our region-whether that includes dam removal or additional spill and flow-we will create new challenges for the stakeholders who use and depend on the dams for electricity generation, barge transportation and other functions," Merkley wrote.

Neither of these two choices, dam removal or spilling more water over the dams without running them through the hydro turbine and increasing river flows by draining upstream reservoirs, is very appealing to most of the supporters of the current biological opinion.

Another letter, sent July 8 by 21 community leaders from Lewiston, and Clarkston , Wash., to their congressmen, also plays in the mix. They said as long as salmon aren't recovered uncertainty will hang over the future of the four dams and in the meantime sediment continues to pile up behind Lower Granite Dam presenting the two communities with an option of building higher levees, which many consider as bad as removing dams.

They also called for a collaborative discussion of all options and said they want to be at the table.

Their new voice means the Port of Lewiston and other shipping interests are no longer the only voice from that area. Seattle Times editorial columnist Lance Dickie took notice in his July 23 column.

"Whether viewed as a threat or remediation, I could not imagine dams being breached," Dickie wrote. "Until now."

The question the region faces now is whether Merkley is right about two choices, dam removal or more spill and more flow. Or does the current biological opinion's option, more habitat spending, minor dam improvements and hatchery reform, offer a third choice?

Or maybe the two options are a collaborative forum of some kind with all the parties at the table, or an upstream-downstream political fight that divides the region geographically.


The Seattle Times
Thursday, July 23, 2009 - Page updated at 04:33 PM
A new twist in dam removal on the Snake River
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2009527114_lance24.html
By Lance Dickie, Seattle Times editorial columnist

Dam removal on the Lower Snake River always lurks in the ruminations of U.S. District Judge James Redden on salmon recovery in the Columbia River Basin.

Whether viewed as a threat or remediation, I could not imagine dams being breached. Until now.

Twenty-one community leaders from Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Wash., sent a July 8 letter to their senators and representatives asking to be included in any future assessments of the dams' status. Any decision directly affects the welfare of residents.

The towns sit at the end of the line, behind Lower Granite Dam, at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers. Accumulating sediment and rising reservoir levels mean protective levees will have to be raised if the dams stay. Higher levees further isolate the communities from the water, but also would require relocating municipal infrastructure built to the current flood risk.

Breach dams, and these distant ports will need help with highways and rail service to replace barge traffic.

Lewiston City Councilor Jim Kluss points out the letter does not argue for a particular outcome, only that the towns want an informed resolution and recognition they will need significant help adjusting to either choice. The worst option is continued long-term uncertainty.

Kluss and others who signed the letter are merchants and business owners. Kluss, who has an appliance store, is part of a family farm dating back to the 1800s. Dam removal requires adjustments, he said, but the promise of an economic boom used to promote the dams never came about.

Redden has been wrestling with the managers of the Federal Columbia River Power System for most of the decade. He wants a reliable plan for salmon and steelhead recovery in a river environment with 14 dams. In particular through the Bush years, he bounced back biological opinions with obtuse and timid intentions.

This February, the federal judge pointedly laid out his expectations about what he wanted to hear in March when all parties met to discuss a revised 2008 biological opinion. In particular, he wanted detailed options if government plans for habitat and hatchery improvements did not work.

In March, Redden told the feds to have a plan for dam removal in their list of recommendations. In April and May, he expressed his pleasure at the fresh attitude the Obama administration brought to tough issues. In May, he granted an extension of time for more review and preparation.

But in a May 18 letter, Redden repeated his call for specifics: plans for dam removal; drawdown of water behind dams, such as the John Day; sending more water through the dams; and tributary and estuary habitat improvements.

In March, Redden acknowledged, "I don't know that breaching dams is the solution. I hope it is never done, but that's the last fallback."

The fight over dam removal has pitted two organized, well-financed factions against one another: environmental interests and river users, for whom the system is a superhighway.

Lately, the role of the hydroelectric dams as a reliable ally against global warming — a clean, regional energy source to back up wind- and solar-power generation — has gained more attention.

The letter from Lewiston and Clarkston community leaders adds an important, new dimension. As the legal debate goes on, and sediment is piling up, the mounting uncertainty has consequences. They bring their futures to the table, not an ideological prescription. The conversation changed.

Correction: A name in a document title was misspelled in my July 10 column: Ridley Cambridge Covenant Draft Text.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company



July 23rd, 2009
Good Magazine: Dam It All
By Chris Ladd

For decades, big business and environmentalists have battled over access to America’s rivers. Now that  dams are being torn down in record numbers, we went back to the one that started it all for some clues about what happens next.

Driving on the eastern bank of the Kennebec River, past several “No Trespassing” signs and across a set of railroad tracks, I turn onto a narrow access road pocked with potholes. It cuts in front of the worn, empty buildings of an abandoned tissue factory, part of another era in Maine’s capital of Augusta. I spot a guy in a hard hat and pull over. I’m looking for the Edwards Dam, I tell him. He straightens up, takes off his hard hat. “You know, come to think of it,” he says, “I think they tore that down.”

It was 10 years ago this July that a backhoe punched a hole in the Edwards Dam. For 162 years, the dam had channeled a watershed roughly the size of Connecticut to power sawmills, a textile factory, and, more recently, a 3.5-megawatt electric generator. It had also blocked access to the spawning grounds of 10 native fish and, throughout the 1990s, environmentalists had called on the federal government to tear the dam down.

“This is the beginning of something that’s going to affect this entire nation,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit said at the time, standing in a parking lot a few hundred feet from where I stand now. Guys in hard hats on the opposite shore then scooped away a temporary gravel dam, allowing the river to flow out unimpeded to the Atlantic for the first time in the better part of two centuries. “You’re going to look back in years hence and say, ‘It all began right here on this riverbank,’” Babbit said. Years hence, it appears he was right.

The majority of dams that have been removed recently—like the Edwards—have been torn down in the name of fish.

The Edwards marks the turning point in America’s attitude toward dams. Of the 900 dams that have ever been removed from American rivers, half have come down in the last 10 years. There have always been those who railed against them—fishermen, for example, and environmentalists—but most of the dams removed prior to the 1990s were breached in the interest of public safety, sacrificed to prevent another flood like the one in 1889 when a Johnstown, Pennsylvania, dam was breached, killing 2,200 people. The majority removed recently, like the Edwards, have been torn down in the name of fish.

Dams kill fish. They keep species like salmon, shad, alewife, and sturgeon from returning to spawning grounds upstream. They trap sediment and silt in the gravel riverbeds, slow down currents, raise river temperatures, and change the mix of gases in the water. Before the Edwards, as many as 100,000 Atlantic salmon surged upriver past Augusta each year. By the 1990s, salmon in the Kennebec numbered a few dozen.

The Army Corps of Engineers keeps a list of large dams in the United States—ones that hold back enough water to be considered dangerous if they were ever to fail. Those number 78,000, and if you count the little ones as well, the number is closer to 2 million. Some were built to generate power or water crops, others to tame floods and to guide ships through impassible rapids. At the height of dam building, in the 1960s, large dams were rising at the rate of five per day.

Dams are functional solutions, but they are essentially temporary ones: If you ask an engineer how long any of those dams will last, they will likely say something like 50 years, at which point the costs of maintenance and chances of failure start to rise dramatically. Ten years ago, 25 percent of America’s dams were more than 50 years old. Ten years from now, 85 percent of them will be—and they were all built before the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Because it can cost far more to get them up to code than to demolish them, we’re at the point, for the first time in history, where we see more dams razed than rising on America’s rivers.

Nowhere is this felt more than in the Northwest’s Columbia River Basin, which drains an area slightly smaller than Texas into the Pacific. At one time, the Columbia River and its tributaries were home to what were arguably the most productive runs of salmon in the world—some 10 to 16 million fish coursing up from the ocean every year. Until 1932, the region didn’t have a single dam. In the next 40 years, more than 400 were built, some powering the largest hydroelectric plant in the United States and generating a full three-quarters of the electricity used in the region.

Today, 13 species of salmon and steelhead trout in the Columbia River Basin are endangered, and, throughout the past two decades, fishermen, environmentalists, Indian tribes, even the state of Alaska, all asked courts to intervene and force the federal government, which operates 31 of the basin’s largest dams, to better protect the region’s fish. Increasingly, that has come down to a debate over whether to tear down four specific dams on Washington’s lower Snake River.

The largest of the country’s dams to go so far, removed from Washington’s Sandy River in 2007, stood 50 feet tall and generated 22 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 10,000 homes. That small amount of power can be replaced fairly easily by other sources, or simply with surplus electricity that is already in the grid. The four Snake River dams, meanwhile, rise 100 feet apiece and are together capable of generating 3,100 megawatts of electricity. That’s roughly enough power to light up Seattle.

In hearings about the Snake River dams, some have said that breaching the dams sacrifices one industry (energy) for another (fish). Others say the fish were sacrificed long ago, when the dams were built in the first place. Still, electricity has to come from someplace: The traditional options all have their pitfalls. If the 3,100 megawatts were to be produced with renewable sources, that’s a lot of wind turbines. Of all the dams to come down in the United States, it can be argued that the four along the lower Snake River would be the first to really sting.

Like a lot of things in the natural world, rivers tend to fix themselves once humans get out of their way

After presiding over the case for over a decade, a federal judge recently hinted that he had grown tired of government delays. This May, for the first time, he explicitly put breaching on the table if fish recovery by other means is less than swift. If the decision to breach the Edwards was a milestone, it was a relatively cheap and painless one, breaking little but precedent. The next 10 years will tell how far that precedent will go.

On the other side of the Kennebec River, where the Edwards Mill used to be, is a new public park with a long, freshly paved parking lot. On weekends in the summer, there’s a farmer’s market, but most of the time it’s deserted, and you can climb down around the chain-link fence and touch what’s left of a dam: twisted rebar sticking out of the concrete, a severed I-beam pointing off toward the opposite shore.

Like a lot of things in the natural world, rivers tend to fix themselves once humans get out of their way. In the past decade, water quality has improved along the Kennebec so drastically that the state has reclassified it, changing restrictions on what you can put into the river to ensure that level of quality continues. Property values, once sagging along the stagnant water behind the dam, have risen to the levels of upriver neighborhoods. The fish are coming back. Earlier this year, a video of a sturgeon in the Kennebec was posted on YouTube; the last time sturgeon were able to pass north of Augusta, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about it in his journal. The dam went up; the dam came down. It happened here; it can happen elsewhere.

It’s possible, with effort, to imagine this seamless river bisected by a thick wall of logs and rock, two stories tall and three football fields across. Mostly, though, it’s like it was never even there.



June 12, 2009
The New York Times: As Wind Power Grows, a Push to Tear Down Dams
By KATE GALBRAITH

WASCO, Ore. — For decades, most of the nation’s renewable power has come from dams, which supplied cheap electricity without requiring fossil fuels. But the federal agencies running the dams often compiled woeful track records on other environmental issues.

Now, with the focus in Washington on clean power, some dam agencies are starting to go green, embracing wind power and energy conservation. The most aggressive is the Bonneville Power Administration, whose power lines carry much of the electricity in the Pacific Northwest. The agency also provides a third of the region’s power supply, drawn mostly from generators inside big dams.

The amount of wind power on the Bonneville transmission system quadrupled in the last three years and is expected to double again in another two. The turbines are making an electricity system with low carbon emissions even greener — already, in Seattle, more than 90 percent of the power comes from renewable sources.

Yet the shift of emphasis at the dam agencies is proving far from simple. It could end up pitting one environmental goal against another, a tension that is emerging in renewable-power projects across the country.

Environmental groups contend that the Bonneville Power Administration’s shift to wind turbines buttresses their case for tearing down dams in the agency’s territory, particularly four along the lower Snake River in Washington State that helped decimate one of North America’s great runs of wild salmon.

Bonneville wants to keep all the dams, arguing that they not only provide cheap power but they also make an ideal complement to large-scale installation of wind power. When the wind slows and power production drops, the agency argues, it can compensate quickly by telling the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams, to release more water from reservoirs to turn the huge generators. When the wind picks up, dam operations can be slowed.

The dams help alleviate a need for natural-gas-fired power plants, which are used in other regions as a backup power source when the wind stops blowing, but which release carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming.

By balancing wind power with hydropower, the Bonneville Power Administration says it believes it can limit the use of natural gas and coal plants across the West, even as the region’s demand for electricity rises. Around the country, dams provide 6 percent of electricity generation — double the amount from other renewable sources like wind, solar power and biomass — and much of that is concentrated in the West.

The influx of wind on Bonneville’s system has come as a result of renewable power goals set by governments in the Western states, which aim to reduce their output of greenhouse gases. Bonneville says that when the wind is blowing most strongly, 18 percent of the power in its control area now comes from wind, and that number may rise to 30 percent next year. (Not all of that is consumed in the Pacific Northwest; some is sold to California.)

The rise in wind power means that the dam agency has emerged as a national test case for how to integrate large amounts of intermittent wind power into a regional electric grid. “I’ve described this as a grand experiment,” said Stephen J. Wright, the administrator of the 72-year-old Bonneville Power Administration.

The agency stresses the challenge it faces, making sure the lights stay on despite the ups and downs of the wind. Many new wind farms lie along the gusty Columbia River corridor, and their concentration means that changes in the wind can bring sudden dips and spikes in the power they generate.

“We can have periods that go from full, maximum wind output to zero across an hour,” Mr. Wright said.

Because of its erratic nature, wind power — and the need for dams or other backup systems — has become intertwined with the fate of salmon, perhaps the biggest environmental controversy in the Pacific Northwest.

For decades, environmentalists, fishermen and some local politicians, who want to save the endangered salmon, have fought Bonneville and the Army Corps of Engineers, which want to keep the lower Snake River dams. A federal judge overseeing the dispute has accused the federal agencies of not working hard enough to save the salmon and had raised the possibility of breaching those dams to aid the fish.

Wild salmon ride the river in two directions. They spawn far upstream, and the young fish swim downriver to the Pacific Ocean. They spend several years there, feeding and growing quite large, before swimming back upstream to spawn and die.

The large reservoirs created over the decades as the dams were built have slowed and complicated their journeys, and slashed survival rates. Fish ladders help on the way back upstream, but those salmon that get through in both directions end up traumatized and weakened, biologists say.

When it comes to helping salmon, Bonneville has “been dragged kicking and screaming every inch of the way,” said Bill Arthur, a Sierra Club representative in the Northwest. Mr. Arthur praised the agency’s efforts to add wind power, but he argued that the four lower Snake River dams, which are far smaller than major dams like Grand Coulee, were not needed to back up wind power.

Instead, he proposed putting wind turbines in more places, to help balance power generation by ensuring that some are always in an area where the wind is blowing, or relying more on the Northwest’s natural gas plants in combination with energy-saving measures. He also noted that if the dams came down, dismantling them could take six or more years, allowing plenty of time to plan the transition to new power sources.

Elliot Mainzer, vice president for corporate strategy at the Bonneville Power Administration, said that tearing down the Snake River dams would “unequivocally” hurt the ability of the agency to assimilate wind power into its system, because of the dams’ role in balancing up-and-down wind generation.

Even as the salmon controversy plays out, the agency is seeking to build more power lines to speed wind-farm development in remote, windy areas.

The economic stimulus package passed in February will help: it sharply increased the maximum amount that the agency can borrow from the United States Treasury to $7.7 billion, from $4.45 billion. (Another dam agency, the Western Area Power Administration, got a similar boost and also plans more transmission lines to aid wind and other renewables.)

Bonneville says that the stimulus injection will enable it to build a $246 million transmission project along the Columbia River, allowing developers to put up wind turbines in additional areas of eastern Oregon, and that more planned transmission lines will also help harness the wind

All of that is good news for the area’s farmers, some of whom welcome a new source of income.

John Hildebrand, an animated 82-year-old wheat farmer, has allowed a Spanish developer, Iberdrola, to put wind turbines on his land in Wasco, not far from the Columbia River. Power from his turbines feeds into the Bonneville system.

He and his brother Gordon sat in the front row when Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Bonneville Dam in 1937, before the region even had public power — so they have seen the future of energy, twice.

“All we had is sky out there,” John Hildebrand said, looking out toward the tall structures twirling high above his rolling land. “Now I’ve got turbines.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company



June 11th, 2009
Pacific Northwest Inlander: Into the Breach
by Kevin Taylor

Idaho’s Republican Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have emerged as unlikely progressive voices calling for a broad collaboration to preserve endangered runs of salmon that must pass four dams on the lower Snake River. Even if it means talking about breaching the dams.

They are joined in this previously unmentionable view by freshman Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who stated during his campaign that he is willing to support removal of the lower Snake River dams if it is supported by science and if losses to hydropower and barging interests are addressed.

One voice that so far is silent on the call for collaboration and discussion of dam breaching belongs to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). The Inlander was unable to reach Murray, but her spokesman, Matt McAlvanah, said in an e-mail that court-ordered remedies have “resulted in historic agreement. Sen. Murray believes the region must now move forward and implement solutions to ensure that those hard-won compromises don’t unravel.”

The translation seems to be no collaboration as envisioned by her colleagues.

Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman, in many ways the dean of Northwest journalists writing about the complexities of salmon preservation, writes in early May, “Murray was responsible for killing, at least for now, Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch’s ambitious efforts to begin a regional forum on resolving the salmon issue before U.S. District Judge James Redden takes it into his own hands.”

Risch, in an interview last week, says he found Oregon’s Senators Merkley and Ron Wyden “enthusiastic about pursuing a collaborative effort.” Washington’s senators, he says, “want the problem resolved [but] are a little more reluctant” on collaboration.

Crapo, while also not being critical of other senators, adds, “I would expect that the political leadership in all states would be very supportive of a collaborative effort.”

It’s surprising where one finds the bones in the long-running and sprawling story of the perils of Northwest salmon. They are in your power bill. They are in the price of wheat. They show up in southern California air conditioning. They determine how many fishing boats leave the dock in Astoria, Ore.

Some of the bones of this story can be found in a basement in Boise, where a piano teacher taps away at a computer keyboard crunching Army Corps of Engineers data on hour-by-hour Snake River dam power generation, revealing that output of electrical current is often limited by low flow of river current.

Other bones for this story can be found in a dim restaurant meeting room in Ritzville in 2005 as the sun was still struggling to roll out of bed on a reluctant October morning. A sprinkling of taciturn farmers sat cradling their brown coffee mugs. Peter Goldmark, himself a wheat rancher, was striving to sell himself as the antidote to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the mid-term Congressional elections.

One key exchange was just this brief:

Farmer: “Snake River dams?”

Goldmark: “Keep ’em.”

It was a striking realization that not even a Congressional challenger could give the merest whisper of dam breaching in wheat country.

The four Snake River dams, and their locks, make low-cost barging of wheat available as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho, 465 river miles from the ocean.

Who, one wondered, had the chops to even convene a dialogue on dam breaching as an option to save the region’s teetering salmon runs when weighed against transportation and hydropower generation?

The fact that it is Crapo, who long labored in the shadow of former Sen. Larry Craig, is a surprise. Craig for years dominated the debate, advocating for power and barging, and was so hostile to conservation of fish that he pulled funding (later restored) for the Fish Passage Center that provides data on how many salmon return to the river each year.

In recent years former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has advocated for Snake River dam removal. Former Idaho Gov. (also a former Interior Secretary) Cecil Andrus has famously noted that, upstream of the dams, Idaho “has habitat, needs fish.”

“Those are people who once were in a position of influence,” Risch says in a telephone interview from his office in Washington, D.C. “There has to be a new generation of leaders.”

Risch is not certain if he or Crapo will be the ones. Neither Idaho senator supports dam breaching, but both say it at least needs to be hashed out to bring two decades of litigation to an end.

“I don’t support breaching the dams and I haven’t supported it since I’ve been in Congress, I’ve never supported it,” Crapo says. But as he recently told a conservation-based group in Boise, “All options must be openly and fairly discussed. Does that mean dam breaching must be on the table? Yes. But that also means not dam breaching must be on the table.”

Julie Edwards, a spokeswoman for Merkley, says, “He has consistently said he would like to see all stakeholders come together to find a solution — representatives from agriculture and representatives from BPA [the federal Bonneville Power Administration], representatives from the fishing industry and from tribes and from the communities that would be impacted by removal of dams.”

The Pacific salmon stocks, which range as far north as Alaska and as far south as Sacramento, cover such a wide swath that particular perspectives can often collide.

Idaho’s delegation, for instance, wants more fish reaching streams far inland, mainly for sport fishing. Oregon’s delegation is concerned about its coastal fishing fleet.

“Oregon’s fishing industry is really hard-hit. We are having a fishing failure again this year. We had one last year,” Edwards says.

It’s easy to point fingers at who is taking what away from whom, which seems to have informed 18 years of litigation.

Redden, the federal judge in Portland, released a letter on May 18 to attorneys involved in the long-running suit.

He lays out blunt statements that he has “serious reservations” about the latest “biological opinion” presented by the federal government to show salmon can survive with the Snake River dams in place.

Redden writes that the government agencies “improperly rely on speculative, uncertain and unidentified” actions to conclude salmon are “trending towards recovery,” and that the government has spent “the better part of a decade treading water and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act.”

He sees hope, Redden writes, but he too says breaching the lower four Snake River dams may be necessary.

Such a huge step, even if Redden were to authorize it, would require Congressional approval and a years-long chain of evaluation, permitting and funding.

But at last — inside the Portland courtroom and out — the concept of breaching is mentioned aloud by judges and United States senators. Damn.

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