IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Wild salmon and steelhead have their day in court!
2. Lower Snake barging continues to decline
3. National Geographic Blog: Hungry, Endangered Orca and Costly, Out-dated Dams
4. Columbia River Treaty – State Department commits to new third purpose of ‘ecosystem function’
5. "Record" Salmon Returns in 2015? Really? SOS Corrects the Record
6. SOS and allies tell NOAA "NO" ‘de-listing’ of Snake River Fall Chinook
7. DONATE to SOS in July – Win Excellent Books in our Summer Raffle!
8. SOS’ Rose Revival Wine Reception 2015 – A Huge Success!
-- DONATE TO SOS IN JULY – ENTER OUR RAFFLE (SEE ITEM #7 BELOW) --
I. Salmon have their day in court!
On Tuesday June 23, oral arguments took place in U.S. federal court in Portland Oregon over the federal agencies’ latest (and still inadequate and illegal) Federal Plan for endangered Columbia Basin wild salmon and steelhead. The plaintiffs (salmon, fishing, and clean energy advocates -- with the State of Oregon and Nez Perce Tribe) faced off against the defendants (federal agencies) and their allies for an all-day hearing. The courtroom was packed - with an overflow room that held as many 35 people at times.
SOS and salmon and fishing advocates from across the region were well represented in the courtroom - including representatives and members of Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, Sierra Club, Salmon For All, and others. Lots of federal and state agency folk were in attendance, and of course, the river industrialists too.
Plaintiffs argued in the morning and defendants followed in the afternoon. The day closed with an hour of rebuttals by both sides and the judge adjourned the hearing at 5 pm. This was the first time that parties to the litigation came before Judge Michael Simon. He was very knowledgeable, very engaged in the discussions and argumentation, and well prepared. He probed both sides with insightful and incisive questions. The plaintiffs’ attorneys did an excellent job representing the interests of our iconic fish and those who love and rely on healthy runs of wild salmon and steelhead. Our lawyers focused on the plan's many shortcomings, including:
• its flawed jeopardy standard – the feds keep trying to lower the bar on what salmon recovery requires.
• its failure to address climate impacts (there are no new climate actions in this plan; instead they double-count other actions and assert that they’ll mitigate climate impacts too).
• its failure to meet the needs of endangered, hungry, and chinook-reliant Southern Resident orcas.
• the continuing inability to demonstrate the benefits of its habitat restoration actions.
• the critical importance of the “Smolt-To-Adult Return ratio” (and the plan’s failure to assess each stage of the salmon life cycle, rather than just one segment of it).
• its failure to protect salmon’s Critical Habitat in the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers.
At the end of the day, the Court did not indicate when we might expect a ruling. The Judge did state clearly that he was still undecided, and that he had lots of reading, studying and thinking yet to do before he issues an opinion. Huge kudos to our attorneys and allies – State of Oregon and Nez Perce Tribe - for a job well done – and to everyone that came to support them and our salmon and rivers in court!
Links to media coverage:
(1) AP: Columbia River Basin plan to restore fish runs faces legal challenge (June 21)
(2) OPB Radio: New Judge To Hear Arguments On Columbia River Dams And Salmon (June 22)
(3) AP: Groups clash in court over Columbia River Basin salmon plan (June 23)
II. Lower Snake barging continues to decline as shippers look towards rail, truck.
Shipping on the lower Snake waterway took yet another steep decline earlier this year as the last container shipping company pulled out of Port of Portland. Increasingly unable to compete with the Puget Sound ports, Portland has struggled for a number of years to keep containers moving through its port. Read more here.
The loss of container shipping at Port of Portland shut down all container river traffic at Port of Lewiston and left farmers scrambling for other options. While wheat can travel bulk in barges, garbanzos, lentils and peas require containers. The Port of Lewiston cut its already small staff in half and farmers find themselves looking increasingly to rail and truck. The local newspaper dubbed it the "Port to Nowhere."
In the past several years rail has become more competitive, with shippers investing in new rail facilities to handle grain and other products.
And some of these rail investments are being developed on the banks of the river. Last year a fertilizer company built an $11 million facility to bring product in by rail at the Port of Wilma on the lower Snake and another one just came on line. Even at the river, shippers are turning toward rail. Read more here.
With the right investments, rail offers several advantages over barging. The most obvious plus is that railroads can get goods to Puget Sound ports while the lower Snake River can’t. And with the lower Snake River waterway aging, maintenance issues and lock closures have made it a less reliable option. The waterway has been closed for months at a time in recent years for lock repairs; another closure is planned in the coming year.
Dam proponents try to portray the “Columbia-Snake waterway” as critical to the Northwest economy. But only the lower Columbia River waterway, from Pasco (WA) downstream to Portland and the Pacific, carries significant river traffic today. In fact, 96 percent of all goods that travel on the so-called “Columbia-Snake waterway” never see the lower Snake, which handles the remaining 4 percent. By the Corps of Engineers’ own standards the lower Snake qualifies as a “negligible-use waterway," their lowest usage category.
The lower Snake still carries bulk wheat down to Portland as well as other products. But many shippers view the loss of container shipping at the Port of Portland as writing on the wall to be ignored at their peril. As one shipper said at a recent Lewiston meeting, “The Port of Portland…is drying up. It’s run its course.”
With shipping from the Port of Lewiston shut down and the other river ports investing in rail, its well-past time to call the question on the lower Snake waterway and dams. Rather than continue sinking precious taxpayer dollars into shoring up an aging and increasingly obsolete barge corridor, isn’t it time to focus on the significant maintinenance and repairs needed on the far more active and valuable lower Columbia waterway? Would farmers, shippers and the region be better served by investing scarce dollars in our rail system?
The region is past-due for an honest conversation about what farmers, shippers, and salmon really need to thrive. It’s not four aging dams on the lower Snake.
III. The “Dean of Southern Resident Orcas” explains his support for lower Snake River dam removal.
Kenneth Balcomb III is the founder and Senior Researcher for the Center for Whale Research based on Friday Harbor. He has been researching the Southern Resident Killer Whales for nearly 40 years, and is considered the world’s foremost expert on this Chinook-reliant population. More than anybody else on the planet, he has observed and documented their ups and downs – including formal listing as "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2005. Since then, their population has continued to decline. Research, however, has recently confirmed three important facts that we must act upon in order to protect and then restore these truly amazing marine mammals. First, they are very often “nutritionally stressed” – they need more food. Two, their main food is Chinook salmon. Three, they spend lots of time feeding on salmon at the mouth of the Columbia-Snake River system.
Mr. Balcomb recently traveled into the Columbia Basin – to take a first hand look at its communities, landscape and dams. This blog, posted on the National Geographic website and introduced by Dr. Carl Safina, was inspired by that recent trip.
As we already know, the Columbia Basin was once a tremendous source of Chinook for the SRKWs, though its salmon populations have declined precipitously in recent decades. These declines, of course, have impacted not only the salmon, fishing communities, and the health of the freshwater ecology; it is also the leading cause of decline for SRKWs who depend on Chinook for survival and reproduction. Rebuilding abundant chinook populations in the Columbia Basin is essential to protecting the SRKW population from extinction.
IV. U.S. State Department affirms its support for modernizing the U.S.- Canada Columbia River Treaty with a new third purpose: ecological health
Northwest conservation groups and fishing communities celebrated seeing key progress on one of its top priorities for a 21st Century Columbia River Treaty with the U.S. State Department’s recent announcement to include ‘ecosystem function’ in its negotiation position as it prepares to negotiate an updated Treaty with Canada. The State Department’s decision came in a May 20 letter received by members of the Northwest Congressional delegation, and is based on 'Regional Recommendation' issued in December 2013 by the Bonneville Power Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The State Department letter says it has “decided to include flood risk mitigation, ecosystem-based function, and hydropower generation interests in the draft U.S. negotiating position. We hope to approach Canada soon to being discussions on modernization of the Treaty.” It emphasizes that modernizing the river treaty is a priority for the nation: “The Administration recognizes the significant economic and cultural role the Columbia River plays in the lives of your constituents in the Pacific Northwest, including numerous communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. We assure you that the future of the Treaty is a priority, and internal deliberations are gaining momentum.”
With glaciers melting in the headwaters and water temperatures rising in the lower Columbia River, climate change is already threatening the river and fisheries that depend on the river. Adding ‘ecosystem function’ as a third treaty purpose co-equal with hydropower and flood risk management would encourage both Canada and the United States to co-manage the Columbia River as a single river, restore salmon to areas now blocked by dams, and reconnect the river with floodplains.
"There is solid, broad-based support among Northwest states, Tribes, businesses and citizens to promptly begin formal talks with Canada to modernize the half-century-old Columbia River Treaty for tomorrow's Northwest,” said Pat Ford, representing Save Our wild Salmon.
The basis for the State Department’s decision originates with the “Regional Recommendation for the Future of the Columbia River Treaty after 2024,” issued in December 2013. That recommendation includes ‘ecosystem function’ as a new purpose of an updated treaty, co-equal to hydropower and flood control -- a feature that will make the Treaty a model of international water management.
"The Regional Recommendation gives the Obama Administration a unique opportunity to improve the health of an iconic international river. The Northwest Congressional Delegation, and in particular, Senators Murray and Wyden, are to be commended for recognizing the need to seize the moment,” said Greg Haller, Conservation Director for the Pacific Rivers Council.
All four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, fishermen and environmentalists support that recommendation. Religious leaders have joined in support of Tribes and First Nations, based on the Columbia River Pastoral Letter. “Canada and the United States together have stewardship and justice responsibilities to manage the river as a single ecologic system,” said John Osborn, a Spokane physician and a coordinator of the Ethics & Treaty Project.
For more on SOS’ Columbia River Treaty Program, go here.
Links to further information:
(1) Department of State Letter to Congress re: Ecosystem Health
(2) Press release: Columbia River Treaty: State Department to include Ecosystem Function in negotiating position
(3) Wenatchee World: Feds - Columbia River Treaty's future is a 'priority'
(4) McClatchy News Bureau: U.S. plans to focus on environment in Columbia River talks
V. “Record Returns” in 2015? Really? SOS releases an updated report on adult salmon returns to the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
If you had only been allowed to read Northwest federal agency press releases since, say, the year 2000, you would have concluded long ago that it was “Mission Accomplished” for salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. According to the agencies’ talking points, we’ve been enjoying record returns of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead annually for years and our problems have been solved. The truth, unfortunately, is not so rosy.
To be fair, we have achieved some successes in the last decade. Favorable ocean conditions, abundant snowpack which then lead to abundant spring and summer flows, and court-won spill have provided the types of conditions for salmon to survive and in some cases thrive. The Columbia River Fall Chinook and Sockeye salmon have been returning recently in truly impressive numbers – though neither of these populations are listed as endangered nor been the focus of the federal agencies’ recovery efforts. Many ESA-listed stocks, however, have not fared so well. All thirteen ESA-listed stocks remain far from recovery and at continued risk of extinction. Mother Nature and court-ordered spill have slowed their declines and in some cases helped to modestly boost their numbers. But much more is needed.
It is also important to note that snowpack and ocean conditions are beyond our control and court-ordered spill has been, well, ordered by the court - over the opposition of the federal agencies. It will take additional measures in the river – like expanded spill and lower Snake River dam removal – to restore our imperiled, irreplaceable, iconic fish.
We assembled this 6-panel factsheet to correct the record and misimpressions people might have based on the agencies’ tireless media machines. This factsheet leans heavily on actual data to highlight the “whats” and “whys” of some recent successes and, importantly, also spotlights where more is needed. The new SOS factsheet: The Salmon Communities’ View – the status of wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia and Snake River Basin can be downloaded here. You can also request a hardcopy by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (We have a limited number of copies, available while supplies last!)
VI. SOS and allies to NOAA: "Now is not the time to ‘de-list’ Snake River Fall Chinook"
In response to a de-listing petition from an Alaskan commercial fishing group calling themselves the “Chinook Futures Coalition", NOAA Fisheries recently asked for public comment on whether Snake River Fall Chinook should continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.
SOS fishing businesses, sportsmen groups and conservation organizations submitted their letter to NOAA Fisheries urging them to maintain protections for these long-imperiled salmon. Read the letter here. The petition for delisting argued that numbers of Snake River fall Chinook have increased enough to reduce protections. Because our fall Chinook migrate up to Alaska and intermingle with Alaskan salmon, fisheries to the north are affected by protections for these Snake River Falls.
While Snake River Fall Chinook have returned in higher numbers in recent years, they are nowhere close to recovery. The majority of returning salmon are hatchery fish and wild stocks remain imperiled. And because Fall Chinook mostly spawn in the mainstem of the Snake River, much of their habitat remains impacted by the dams. Finally, a single Major Population Group (MPG) is insufficient for meeting the criteria for de-listing under the Endangered Species Act.
The letter noted that while the signers also have the goal of restoring all stocks of Columbia Basin salmon to abundant, fishable numbers, Snake River Fall Chinook still have a long ways to go towards recovery.
VII. Donate to SOS in July – and you’re eligible for our 4-book raffle.
Anyone who makes a donation of any size during the month of July will be entered in a raffle – to be held in early August. We are awarding four gifts: two copies of Dr. David Montgomery’s King of Fish and two copies of Never Give Up on the Sagebrush Sea – stories from an Idaho native – by Richard Howard. All books are signed by the authors.
King of Fish documents the trials and tribulations of salmon and their rivers – starting in Europe and then traveling across North America – over the last 500 years. Dr. Montgomery spends a lot of time in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska – the last strongholds for wild salmon – and offers his recommendations for what we’ll need to do to keep salmon coming back - including for example, the removal of the lower Snake River dams!
Never Give Up is a engaging collection of stories and memoirs by Richard Howard - an anthropologist and career wildlife biologist who's lived much of his life in Idaho. This book gives a wonderful flavor of the beauty of Idaho’s wild lands, conservation battles, and its people. Never Give Up also spends more than a little time on Idaho’s wild salmon and what needs to be done to bring them home.
Make your donation here. Thank you in advance for your generosity and support!
VIII. SOS’ Rose’ Revival at Ray’s Boathouse - another big success!
Thanks to everyone who joined us at Ray’s Boathouse in mid-June to sample Washington’s excellent rose’ and white wines. We had another sellout crowd – the wines and the food (prepared by Ray’s) and the company were all excellent!
Thanks to everyone’s generosity, we raised over $6,000 this year, enjoyed delicious wine and food and had a ton of fun! Our most successful Revival yet!
A big shout-out to the wonderful businesses that support SOS and helped make this event such a success:
Plauche and Carr, LLC
Emerald Water Anglers
Seattle Wine Events
Alchemy Bistro and Winebar (Port Townsend)
Blueacre Seafood restaurant (Seattle)
Lark restaurant (Seattle)
Seafood Producers Cooperative, and
Becky Selengut for her donation of two beautiful cookbooks
And finally - a huge thanks to our four amazing SOS volunteers: Amy Bogaard, Amy Grondin, Kristie Miller, and Sarah Gardener - we could not have done it without you!