1. Salmon Battle in Court Moves Forward - hearing on President Obama's plan set for May 9
2. Confirmed: Fish Like Water! - federal agencies commit to water over dams, "spill" remains off latest plan.
3. The Greatest Migration rolls on - could this awesome film be coming to your town?
4. Recovering a Lost River - great new book on Columbia and Snake River salmon.
5. Media Roundup - latest news on Columbia-Snake salmon.
***SPECIAL PREVIEW of the upcoming documentary on PBS' Nature - "Salmon: Running the Gauntlet"
Salmon and fishing advocates – and many others – are gearing up for the next major installment in the long-running effort to build durable solutions for wild salmon. Since the early 1990s, when Snake River sockeye became the first Pacific salmon population to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, salmon advocates from across the country have put pressure on federal agencies, big power companies, and other river industrialists to restore the health of the Columbia and Snake Rivers and its wild salmon and steelhead populations.
Three federal salmon plans in the last two decades have been ruled inadequate and illegal. The contents of this latest plan, the 2010 Biological Opinion for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, promises only to perpetuate the mistakes and failures of the past: It ignores or circumvents the best science; it allows salmon to remain at continued risk of extinction; it fails to meet the needs of our economy and the needs of tribal and non-tribal fishing businesses and communities; and it will not restore the important ecological role that salmon play in the Northwest – like feeding salmon-eating orcas that are literally starving to death today.
U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has set May 9 as the date for “oral arguments” - when federal agencies square off with salmon advocates in the courtroom to debate the merits – or lack thereof – of the 2010 Obama Salmon Plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers. A final ruling from the court on the adequacy of the plan is expected later this year.
For a review of the plan, assessments of its value, and how we got to where we are:
The Science and the Law in the Obama Administration's Columbia-Snake Salmon Plan.
Out-migrating juvenile Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead will get a much-needed boost this spring - thanks to the successful advocacy of the Nez Perce Tribe and the State of Oregon to retain court-ordered levels of water spilled over federal dams during the 2011 spring salmon migration.
“Spill” has been a key reason for recently improved salmon returns, although numbers are still far below levels needed to sustain healthy salmon populations. Federal dam agencies announced last month that they would provide spill this spring that gets closer to the levels ordered by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden for the last five years.
Earlier in the year, the dam agencies once again sought to cut back court-ordered spill in favor of generating additional hydropower this spring. Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe led the effort among federal, state, and tribal salmon managers to retain prior spill levels.
“For the sixth straight year, water spilled over the federal dams in spring when young salmon are migrating to the ocean will mean higher salmon survival, higher salmon returns, more fishing and more jobs in our coastal communities,” said Joel Kawahara, board member of the Washington Trollers Association. “Judge Redden first required spring spill for the 2006 migration season, and every year since, his oversight has led the federal government to keep providing it – even though every year, they have looked for ways to reduce spill in order to make more money from generating electricity.”
This decision means that – at least for Spring 2011 – about half of the young Columbia Basin salmon heading to the ocean will travel there in the river, rather than being vacuumed out of the river and barged around the dams. Prior to 2006, up to 90% of baby salmon were routinely removed from the river and barged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, interrupting their natural migration and compromising their survival.
For years, salmon advocates have asked the federal government to make spill a permanent, guaranteed part of the federal plan. The Obama Administration’s 2010 Plan curtails spill from court-ordered levels, and allows the federal agencies to halt spill during key times of the migration in the spring and summer.
“The science is clear: salmon do better when the river runs more like a river,” said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations (PCFFA). “We shouldn’t have to fight for spill every year. Salmon and west coast fishing economies deserve reliable protections guided by the best science – and that means continued and increased spill in the spring and summer months.”
In EP Films’ The Greatest Migration, we follow endangered Snake River salmon as they tackle their incredible return journey from Alaska to Idaho's wild and rugged Sawtooth Mountains — swimming farther and climbing higher than any salmon on Earth.
Here's the trailer:
April 6: University of Oregon, Eugene - Many Nations Long House, 7pm
Author Steve Hawley releases a new book on Columbia and Snake Rivers, providing "a powerful argument for why dam removal makes good scientific, economic, and environmental sense—and requires our urgent attention."
The book Recovering a Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities is available online at Powell's Books.
In the Pacific Northwest, the Snake River and its wilderness tributaries were once among the world’s greatest salmon rivers. As recently as a half-century ago, they retained some of their historic bounty, with millions of fish returning to spawn. Now, due to four federal dams, Snake River salmon populations have dropped close to extinction. Expensive efforts to recover salmon with fish ladders, hatcheries, and even trucking and barging them around the dams have failed.
Steven Hawley, journalist and self-proclaimed “river rat,” argues that the best hope for the Snake River lies in dam removal, a solution that pits powerful energy interests and Army Corps of Engineers against a coalition of Indian tribes, fishermen and women, clean energy advocates, and outdoor recreation companies along with hundreds of other businesses. Hawley demonstrates how the river’s health is closely connected to local economies, water rights, energy independence—and even the health of endangered orca whales in Puget Sound.
The story of the Snake River, its salmon, and its people raises the fundamental questions of who should exercise control over natural resources and which interests should receive highest priority. It also offers surprising counterpoints to the notion of hydropower as a cheap, green, and reliable source of energy, and challenges the wisdom of heavily subsidized water and electricity.
This regional battle is part of an ambitious river restoration movement that stretches across the country from Maine’s Kennebec to California’s Klamath, and engages citizens from a broad social spectrum. In one successful project, the salmon of Butte Creek rebounded from a paltry fourteen fish to twenty thousand within just a few years of rewilding their river, showing the incredible resiliency of nature when given the opportunity.
Recovering a Lost River depicts the compelling arguments and actions being made on behalf of salmon and fishing communities by a growing army of river advocates. Their message, persistent but disarmingly simple, is that all salmon need is clean, cold water in their rivers, and a clear way home.
5. Salmon & Rivers in the News
Lots of stories and opinions emerged over the last several weeks.
March 4: Wet Planet Whitewater Blog by Susan Hollingsworth - Snake River Salmon Abundance: It Can Happen
March 11: Scientists issue a response in the Oregonian to a recent op-ed from NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.
Salmon community also responds here.
March 11: Congressmen DeFazio at it again (and we wish it was good news). Read the blog here.
March 12: Register Guard story “Critics say Bonneville Power drops ball while juggling its power” by Susan Palmer. Read the story here.
March 20: Author Steve Hawley takes Congressman DeFazio head on in a letter to the Oregonian.
March 24: Students call on Congressman DeFazio. Hundreds of students and young people call for leadership and solutions. Read their letter here.
March 29: Op-ed in the Capital Press from Brett Swift - "Fewer dams will improve Columbia-Snake river system”