It’s been a whirlwind since the court ruled on May 4th – invalidating the federal agencies’ latest plan for endangered wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia/Snake Basin. We’ve spent time in Washington D.C. meeting with Congressional offices and Obama administration officials; we’re connecting and reconnecting with allies and partners to plan our joint work together in the weeks and months ahead; we’re responding to media interest and communications projects; and with our Orca-Salmon Alliance partners, we kicked off “Orca Awareness Month” on June 5th.
As a result, it’s now mid-June and we’re still catching up on various projects – including an overdue issue of the Wild Salmon & Steelhead News. Here is it.
Enjoy this issue – it’s longer than usual - packed with lots of great information, recent developments and a look at what’s ahead. Following on the heels of this terrific ruling, we look forward to working closely with you in the weeks and months ahead to seize this opportunity to recover salmon, restore healthy rivers, and rebuild communities. We'll be reaching out to ask for your engagement, support and energy like never before!
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. U.S. District Court rejects feds’ 5th consecutive salmon plan since 2000; serves up lower Snake River dam removal and a new opportunity for Northwest and nation.
2. Press Clips: More salmon and river restoring news coverage
3. Guest Opinion - Lin Laughy: "Snake Oil on the Lower Snake"
4. June is Orca Awareness Month – Kick-off event and upcoming activities
5. Recent and Upcoming Salmon/River Events in the Northwest
6. Welcome Rachael Carrell - SOS' Summer 2016 Intern!
1. U.S. District Court rejects feds’ 5th consecutive salmon plan since 2000; serves up lower Snake River dam removal - and a new opportunity for Northwest and nation.
On May 4th, the long-awaited verdict from U.S. District Court in Portland (OR) was issued. Judge Michael Simon (who replaced Judge James Redden in 2013) soundly rejected the federal agencies’ 2014 Columbia Basin Salmon Plan. While this is the 5th federal plan since 2000 to meet this fate, last month’s ruling was significantly different.
The court found the government’s plan in violation of both the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In doing so, it toppled the building blocks that the agencies have relied on for years – a framework far more focused on saving dams than saving wild salmon and steelhead gravely endangered by those dams.
The 148-page ruling rejected the government’s efforts to define downward what the law requires to recover the species; it rejected the government’s failure to address climate impacts; and it rejected the plan’s overly optimistic reliance on uncertain and speculative tributary and habitat restoration projects. It specifically cited the government plan's high costs ($15B and counting...) but dismal results.
In addition to these substantive issues above, the court also found for the plaintiffs (conservationists, fishing and clean energy advocates, the Nez Perce Tribe and State of Oregon) that the government violated NEPA. The agencies’ illegal reliance on stale and out-of-date information has contributed to the their expensive failures in the Columbia Basin.
The May 4 court order requires the agencies to produce a new salmon plan (Biological Opinion or BiOp) and NEPA-compliant report 21 months from now - March 1, 2018. (this date will likely change – see below).
The court sent a strong message that the agencies’ NEPA Report (Environmental Impact Statement or EIS) must take a close look at the removal of the four lower Snake River dams – something agencies have stubbornly avoided – despite NOAA’s acknowledgement in 2000 that it is the single most beneficial action we can take to protect and restore endangered salmon in the Columbia Basin.
The NEPA process presents a tremendous opportunity to develop updated information, assess the costs, benefits and effectiveness of various recovery options to make the dams less deadly to salmon and steelhead, and promote a dialogue in the Northwest and nation – but only if the process has integrity, transparency, robust public participation. We’ll need your help to watchdog and engage in this process from start to finish.
Right now, we’re waiting for the judge, with input from the various parties to the litigation, to settle on a final calendar for the NEPA process and development of a new salmon plan. Stay tuned!
Finally, here's a (very) partial list of press clips: editorials, articles and guest opinions about the ruling and the need for a sensible, effective, and fiscally-responsible plan to restore Northwest wild salmon and steelhead.
2. Press Clips: More salmon and river restoring news coverage:
New York Times article: Unplugging the Colorado River (5.22.2016) (while this article focuses on the Colorado, it references our Columbia and Snake work and the fact that dam removal is increasingly accepted as a mainstream policy tool to restore rivers and fish and wildlife populations)
The Drake: Army Corps Attempt to Engineer Salmon Recovery (6.10.2016) (this short article includes a quote from executive director Joseph Bogaard)
Green Acre Radio: The Great Salish Sea: Double Jeopardy - Endangered Orcas and Endangered Salmon (6.15.2016) (This 6-minute radio story highlights the challenges South Resident orcas face, and how recovering salmon in the Columbia Basin must be an important part of this puzzle. And it includes a quote from Joseph too!)
Columbia Basin Bulletin: NOAA Upholds Threatened Designation For Snake River Fall Chinook (6.2.2016) (SOS and many of its coalition partners joined forces to submit official comment to NOAA as it considered a "petition to delist" and urged the agency to uphold the threatened designation. In this case, NOAA made the right decision.)
3. Guest Opinion - Lin Laughy: "Snake Oil on the Lower Snake"
From the desk of Lin Laughy - June 7, 2016
The Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration continually mislead the public regarding the status of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and lower Snake Rivers. Ports and special interest groups echo these government agencies’ misinformation. Claims about the survival rate of juvenile fish passing through the hydropower system provide a prime example, with the following statements typical:
The [lower Snake River] dams are now on track to achieve standards of 96 percent average dam survival for young spring Chinook and steelhead migrating downstream and 93 percent for young summer-migrating fish. — Bonneville Power Administration (Fact Sheet March 2016)
The Walla Walla District is on track to meet performance standards of 96 percent survival for spring migrating juvenile fish and 93 percent for summer migrants through each lower Snake River dam. — Walla Walla District, Army Corps of Engineers January 1, 2016
The survival rate of juvenile fish traversing the dams has reached 97 percent, and adult fish returning to spawn have a dam passage rate of nearly 100 percent. — Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association as reported in the Lewiston Morning Tribune April 7, 2016
For the young salmon who do pass by these dams on their way to the ocean, survival rates are incredibly high: 97 percent on average, similar to survival rates in undammed rivers. — Executive Director of Northwest River Partners, Opinion, Spokesman Review, May 28, 2016
The intent of this messaging is for the reader to associate 93%-97% survival of juvenile fish with the operation of the Columbia/Snake hydropower system. These messages frequently fail to make clear that this claimed survival rate is per dam, nor do they address the cumulative impact of such a survival rate.
Let’s look at the full truth.
Click here to read Lin's full opinion.
4. June 2016 - Orca Awareness Month – kick-off and upcoming events:
This past Sunday, June 5th, SOS and the Orca Salmon Alliance (OSA) hosted a Baby Orca Birthday Bash - its opening event for the 10th Annual Orca Awareness Month which celebrated the birth of baby Southern Resident orcas last year. The event focused on celebrating this iconic species of the northwest and building awareness of the present threats to their survival – not the least of which is the persistent lack of available prey – chinook salmon.
The event was a huge success. 400+ people attended - excited about orcas and enthusiastic about the work the OSA is doing.
Various OSA members hosted tables with orca-themed activities - face painting, arts and crafts, and orca bingo. The main attraction were the six impressive and delicious cakes donated by Seattle bakeries for the event. Attendees admired, voted on, and of course ate the cakes once a winner was selected. Kids and parents alike had a wonderful time and left with a heightened enthusiasm for orca and orca-salmon conservation.
Congressmen Dennis Heck and Port Commissioner Fred Felleman spoke during the birthday bash - expressing their commitment to supporting orca and salmon recovery efforts. Governor Inslee also sent a letter of support expressing his congratulations for the 10th Annual Orca Month and his recognition for the need of further efforts to protect orca and salmon populations in Washington State. (Note: With the May 4 verdict, Governor Inslee right now has an excellent opportunity to turn words into action - by working to meet the needs of the Columbia Basin endangered salmon in the near-term - and to ensure we develop a lawful federal salmon plan to replace the latest illegal one!)
This event was a testament to widespread support for OSA’s orca and salmon conservation efforts.
If you are going to be in the Seattle area on Wednesday, June 29, we hope you’ll join us at Town Hall Seattle of “Orca and Salmon - An Evening of Story-telling”. Go here for more details and links to purchase tickets.
5. Recent and Upcoming Salmon/River Events:
"AN EVENING ON THE ELWHA" - SEATTLE TOWN HALL
On May 12th, SOS co-hosted an amazing presentation of experts on the Elwha River restoration at Town Hall Seattle. More than 500 people attended and stayed late into the evening listening to stories and asking questions.
The event was emceed by Seattle Times Reporter Lynda Mapes and included talks from Francis Charles, chairwoman of the Lower Elwha Tribe, 1990s Elwha river restoration campaigner Shawn Cantrell (and current Regional Director of Defenders of Wildlife), adventurer David Spiegel, and a series of knowledgeable, articulate agency and tribal scientists who provided an amazing glimpse into the tremendous progress of the nation’s biggest river restoration to date!
Unfortunately, we were unable to record this special evening. The bottom line: watershed and fish and wildlife restoration is happening at an astonishing pace. River function has returned, the estuary and coastline is recovering, salmon – and the many critters that benefit from the presence of salmon – are increasing in numbers.
Overall, it was a wonderful, inspiring evening. Here is a link to the event announcement and presenters – we are extremely grateful for their expert and enthusiastic participation in this special evening.
"RETURN OF THE RIVER" SCREENING - SPOKANE, WA
A recent screening of the award-winning film Return of the River drew a warm crowd in Spokane. The documentary celebrates the tremendous recovery dam removal has brought to the Elwha River ecosystem and recounts how the community overcame obstacles and disagreement to finally reach a consensus decision on dam removal that all stakeholders could support. SOS, Spokane Falls Trout Unlimited and American Whitewater sponsored the screening and led a Q & A afterwards focused on lessons the Elwha success story could offer to ongoing efforts to remove the four lower Snake River dams.
The diverse crowd of 100 people cheered Judge Simon’s recent decision to reject the federal agencies’ failed BiOp. Simon’s ruling has offered the region a real opportunity to honestly assess what both fish and the region’s farmers need to survive and thrive in the future. With the benefits of the lower Snake River declining and more farmers and shippers needing rail lines rather than an aging waterway to get goods to market, is it past time for a honest conversation among fishermen, river advocates, farmers, taxpayers and other stakeholders on dam removal and the opportunities to replace four aging dams with better transportation, cleaner energy, and a strong recreational economy based on a free-flowing restored river and healthy fisheries.
Many communities around the Northwest and nation have demonstrated that people can come together and support removing dams. When obsolete dams come out and rivers are restored, fish, people and economies benefit. Return of the River documents the hard work involved in such an effort and why it’s worth it.
SOS and partner groups will be hosting more screenings of the film in the fall in Walla Walla, Lewiston and Spokane. Stay tuned!
6. Welcome Rachael Carrell - SOS' Summer 2016 Intern!
Save Our wild Salmon has been blessed this summer by the arrival of Rachael Carrell - a Seattle native who eager to help us restore healthy rivers and wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. She's working with Joseph in our Seattle office on a variety of projects: outreach, research, communications and more.
After taking a gap year after high school and traipsing around South America - studying Spanish, working on farms, and generally exploring and adventuring, Rachael returned to the U.S. and began her studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington. She's home for the summer and is volunteering full-time with SOS.
We're very fortunate to have her with us!