A Stakeholder Initiative for the Columbia-Snake Basin
In late 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the start of a Columbia Basin stakeholder process. Phase 1 – a “situation assessment” - entailed more than 200 interviews, conducted by university-based professional facilitators, with diverse interests that have a stake in the Columbia and Snake Rivers: fishermen, farmers, conservationists, energy producers, shipping interests, and others. The final assessment report was released in December 2013, and includes a synthesis of these interviews as well as an array of options for moving forward with a stakeholder dialogue. One of the report’s key findings is that Northwesterners of all stripes are ready and eager to collaborate in pursuit of durable solutions to the linked challenges of salmon restoration, energy production, transportation and water use.
This NOAA-initiated process represents the potential for a promising new venue for stakeholders to talk and listen to each other; solicit, identify, and discuss the best and most up-to-date scientific and economic information; and work together on a regional blueprint that tackles the interconnected issues surrounding salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin. Learn what salmon and fishing advocates think is most important for a successful stakeholder process.
In recent years, our alliance of salmon advocates have sought a new stakeholder-driven approach as the best way to craft a comprehensive, legal, and science-based plan that finally protects and restores endangered Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead – and meets the needs of Northwest people. Despite many court victories by salmon and fishing organizations, the federal government has so far failed to deliver an effective, legal, science-based restoration plan. This has wasted time and money, harmed fishing communities, and resulted in persistent uncertainty for Northwest salmon, people, and businesses.
Public and political support for a stakeholder collaboration continues to grow. In 2011, 1,100+ businesses and 50+ members of Congress asked President Obama to begin stakeholder discussions for Columbia Basin salmon. These House members have since been joined by a number of Northwest leaders including Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, all six U.S. senators in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, the Nez Perce Tribe, and tens of thousands of Americans. Several newspapers, including the New York Times, Oregonian, Daily Astorian, Seattle Times, and Idaho Statesman, have also editorialized in favor of a regional stakeholder dialogue.
While salmon restoration may be at the heart of such a process, salmon are hardly the only resource with a stake in the future of the Columbia Basin. The fate of Northwest farms, energy, and shipping and transportation are also tied to these rivers. Solutions that work for salmon and salmon people must also work for all communities and economic sectors that share the priceless resources of the Columbia Basin. An authentic and meaningful stakeholder collaboration is the best – and perhaps only – way to identify and implement such shared solutions. We are hopeful that the effort NOAA has initiated will become the workspace for that kind of collaboration.
Read the Final Columbia Basin Situation Assessment Report here.
Read SOS’s press statement on the Final Assessment Report here.
LMT Editorial: It's early yet for self-congratulations, isn't it?
July 17, 2013
From the sounds of their self-congratulatory statement last week, you'd get the sense the federal agents who run the dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers have figured out how to save imperiled salmon and steelhead runs.
"To date, performance testing indicates that all projects are on track to meet the bi-op (biological opinion) performance standards of 96 percent survival for spring migrating fish and 93 percent survival for summer migrants," reported the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
But what would real success look like?
Wouldn't it suggest fish numbers approaching the abundance in the days before the dams were built?
That would mean wild Snake River spring/summer chinook runs in the range of 80,000 fish. Today, the number of chinook returning to the Snake River is estimated at 41,900 - split about evenly between wild and hatchery fish.
That would mean steelhead runs in the range of 90,000 fish. Last year, 23,000 wild steelhead returned to the river system.
Returning wild sockeye once numbered about 10,000. If it weren't for hatchery-bred fish, Idaho would have no sockeyes at all.
Those wild fish are vital because they are the genetic broodstock of the species. As long as those wild fish populations are suppressed, the species will remain endangered.
If the dam operators had mastered the intricacies of preserving fish, would they have to rely so extensively on a network of hatcheries? No question, there are more fish now than in the 1990s. But only one adult fish returns to Idaho spawning grounds for every 100 smolts that leave for the ocean. And it's the less genetically diverse hatchery fish that have provided the numbers sufficient to allow some fishing.
If the federal agencies were so adroit at enhancing fish runs, wouldn't fishing seasons last as long as the fish runs - rather than the truncated seasons fish and game agencies authorize along the network of rivers?
At minimum, wouldn't success in preserving wild fish involve a self-sustaining natural rhythm? Instead, Northwest power ratepayers are shelling out more than $600 million a year - and more than $7.35 billion during the last 11 years - just to prop up the system with hatcheries, transportation, habitat restoration and dam renovations.
And wouldn't success in saving the fish point to an end to costly litigation pitting dam managers against conservationists? Instead, wouldn't you see former adversaries joining hands and singing Kumbaya from Salmon,Idaho, to Astoria, Ore.?
In the last 15 years, federal judges have tossed out four prior fish recovery plans - called biological opinions - as being insufficient and illegal under the Endangered Species Act.
The cycle of studies, lawsuits and reversals has cost more than $10 billion.
A fifth bi-op, which is due out this fall. Last week's outline of progress was meant for the federal courts as much as the public. The ink on that statement was not even dry before fish advocates were pointing out its shortcomings.
You can bet they'll have same reaction to any bi-op that repeats the strategies of the first four.
In the absence of the big table collaborative approach favored by people such as Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both R-Idaho, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood, it's back to court we go.
Does that look and sound like success to you? - M.T.
Olympian Guest Opinion: Inslee and Kitzhaber can lead a Columbia resolution
Bryan Jones and Sara Patton
June 07, 2013
For 12 years, Washington and Oregon have been on opposite sides of the Columbia Basin salmon deadlock. But Washington’s new governor, Jay Inslee, is the right leader at the right time to partner with Oregon Gov. JohnKitzhaber so the two states can lead the Northwest to shared and lasting solutions for salmon, energy and agriculture.
Inslee’s values and policies align with Kitzhaber’s: clean water and healthy rivers, clean and affordable energy and efficient transportation infrastructure for our cities and farm — along with the good jobs involved in meeting those goals. And Inslee brings a new leadership element to rebuilding the Columbia-Snake partnership with Oregon, his dual determination to stop climate change and to arm our state against its damage.
The two governors can build from a positive federal step. Last December, after years of contention and illegal salmon plans, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco set her agency on a fresh course: exploring multi-party collaboration on the Columbia and Snake.
Just how this process will develop is the subject of interviews now underway with more than 150 Columbia-Snake stakeholders. But a stakeholder initiative will work only if Washington and Oregon actively support and shape it. All-party collaboration is the Northwest’s best hope to break the legal, political and economic deadlock on the Columbia, and that hope becomes achievable once Washington and Oregon join to lead it.
Eastern Washington needs a resolution to this deadlock. The status quo is delivering neither healthy salmon or salmon economies nor the energy certainty that Inslee’s clean energy and jobs goals require. Farmers need modern, reliable and affordable transportation options that are not constrained by the federal fiscal crisis.
Make no mistake: Climate disruption is happening and will intensify over time. The Columbia and Snake rivers are getting steadily hotter at the same time that runoff and flow patterns are changing. This affects fish, farmers, energy, health — every use and every user.
Today, Washington and Oregon are on opposite sides of litigation over federal salmon plans, litigation that is both source and symptom of the deadlock. Reconciling the states’ substantive disagreements may not be easy, but it must be tried. And even if policy disagreements persist, Inslee and Kitzhaber still can work together so diverse Columbia-Snake stakeholders talk and work with one another.
Inslee and Kitzhaber can put Washington and Oregon back in the driver’s seat to make a successful collaboration happen that meets the needs of clean energy, farmers, fishermen and our communities in the Columbia-Snake Basin and the Northwest.
Bryan Jones is a fourth-generation wheat grower and farmer near Dusty and the lower Snake River in Washington. Sara Patton of Seattle is executive director of the NW Energy Coalition, a regional association of some 115 utilities and other organizations committed to a clean and affordable energy future.
From the Congressional Mailbag - House members' support for NOAA's stakeholder initiative
As you may recall, a couple of months back, Congressman Hastings (R-WA) sent a letter to then-administrator of NOAA Dr. Jane Lubchenco, seeking a halt to the Columbia Basin stakeholder assessment that NOAA initiated in late 2012. The assessment, which is now in full swing and aims to gather diverse stakeholder perspectives on comprehensive salmon recovery issues, has broad support from people, groups, and businesses across the Columbia Basin (minus Mr. Hastings, of course). Most Northwesterners are hopeful that NOAA’s assessment will lead to a meaningful, constructive collaborative process that in turn leads to real, durable solutions and finally helps to resolve the decades-old salmon deadlock.
Now you can add ten West Coast Members of Congress to the chorus of support for NOAA’s stakeholder initiative. Late last week, a group of U.S. Representatives from the Pacific salmon states of Oregon, Washington, and California sent a letter to NOAA’s acting administrator, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, applauding her agency’s decision to begin the process of engaging stakeholders in the challenge of long-term salmon restoration in the Columbia Basin. In their letter, the Members of Congress underscore the importance of broadening the dialogue around salmon restoration, especially in the face of persistently-struggling wild salmon populations and the worsening impacts of climate change. The letter concludes by saying, “There is enormous promise in bringing stakeholders together to collaboratively resolve differences…”
We agree wholeheartedly. SOS and our partners, colleagues, and allies will continue to work hard to help NOAA’s assessment succeed so that we might have a real shot at the promise our congressional leaders describe.
Huge thanks to the signers of the House letter: Reps. Blumenauer (D-OR), McDermott (D-WA), Smith (D-WA), Thompson (D-CA), Eshoo (D-CA), Capps (D-CA), Farr (D-CA), Honda (D-CA), Huffman (D-CA), and Speier (D-CA).
Idahoans set the record straight with letter to Rep. Hastings
From the desk of Greg Stahl, Assistant Policy Director, Idaho Rivers United
A contingent of Idaho residents wrote Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., last week expressing their concern that a recent letter the congressman penned grossly exaggerated the state of salmon and steelhead recovery efforts in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
“If you think salmon are being restored, please consider coming to Idaho and telling that to fishermen and fishing businesses, who continue to struggle season after season as salmon returns stumble and even slip,” the Idahoans wrote. “Moreover, your letter glosses past the fact that salmon recovery is about wild fish, and wild fish returns are at a fraction of what’s needed for recovery.”
The Idaho letter was signed by Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited Board President Bill Boyer, fisheries biologist Bert Bowler, fisherman and Boise dentist Steve Bruce, and fishing guides and rural Idaho business owners Chris Swersey and Gary Lane.
Hastings wrote the outgoing administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, on Feb. 4 to express that NOAA’s recent initiation of regional stakeholder interviews regarding salmon and steelhead weren’t necessary because endangered fish populations have rebounded. But the opposite is true, the Idahoans wrote.
The official forecast for this year’s wild spring/summer chinook return to the Columbia River mouth destined for the Snake River Basin is only 18,900, and about 60 percent, or 11,000 fish, will reach Lower Granite Dam, they pointed out. The 2012 wild run crossing Lower Granite was 21,000; 2011 was 22,000; and 2010 was 26,000.
New Editorial Support in the Pacific Northwest: It's Time for Stakeholder Talks
Fall 2012 has seen support for regional stakeholder talks grow. Governor Kitzhaber published his op-ed in the Oregonian calling on the Obama Administration to get talks started. Senator Wyden also weighed in.
More recently, a number of regional newspapers have published editorials calling to start a collaborative stakeholder process to resolve the linked issues of salmon, energy, transportation, water policy, and jobs in Columbia and Snake River Basin.
Joining earlier editorials from the Seattle Times (WA) and Idaho Statesman (ID), the Lewiston Tribune (ID), the Daily Astorian, and the Chinook Observer all recently expressed support for a new path forward that brings together the key stakeholders to work directly with each other to seek creative, effective solutions that will restore salmon, create jobs, and invest in our region's energy and transportation infrastructure.
To read these new editorials:
2012 Sockeye returns point to need for stakeholder-driven solutions
From the desk of Greg Stahl, assistant policy director, Idaho River United
The fate and future of Snake River sockeye salmon remains far from certain.
This summer and fall, twenty years after the single sockeye salmon - dubbed Lonesome Larry - returned to central Idaho and brought attention to his species’ dire straits, only 243 adult sockeye completed the long journey from the Pacific Ocean to Redfish Lake (6,547 feet above sea level) at the base of the Sawtooth Mountains. Of those, 173 were released into Redfish Lake to spawn naturally; the rest were taken to hatchery facilities.
The final tally is not yet complete, but biologists estimate about one-third of those 173 returning sockeye were “natural spawners”—fish born in the wild two years ago. The remainder were artificially raised in a captive broodstock hatchery program that has—along with court-ordered spill at dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers—helped prevent the species’ extinction.
- Oct 18, 2012 - Bonneville Power, Uncertainty, and Stakeholder Talks
- Nov 30, 2011 - Congress Calls on Obama To Convene Wild Salmon Solutions Table
- Aug 04, 2011 - Columbia River salmon plans: The judge is not amused