IDAHO STATESMAN: Reader's View — Salmon Recovery
OREGONIAN: The false choice on endangered salmon
by JOEL CONNELLY Living in a corner of America powered, irrigated and inspired by water, we ought to treat Tuesday's report released by the White House, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, as a wake-up call and cold shower. "We are the alpha and the omega of global warming," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who helped write a flawed -- but needed -- bill to change national energy policy. It's pending in the House. Want to know how climate change is changing America? Read the report. Want its bottom line: "Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced." Changes "are expected to increase." Want to see impacts on the Northwest? Just look around, something that global-warming skeptics resolutely refuse to do. Global warming is shrinking the winter snowpack. A smaller snowpack means reduction in the runoff that sustains our river flows, makes the desert bloom, allows salmon to reach and return from the ocean, and powers the world's greatest hydroelectric system. The consequences don't end when our rivers reach salt water. "Climate change and ocean acidification are already having major impacts on Washington: Our $100 million shellfish industry is in crisis after four years of oyster reproductive failure from ocean acidification," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. If oyster beds are in peril, so are salmon-spawning streams. One third of current habitat for Northwest salmon and other cold-water fish will be lost in this century, or so finds the report. What critters will most likely be conflicted? Us. Just look at the legal and political battles that have broken out in years of low stream flow on the Columbia, Snake and Klamath rivers. Irrigators in the Klamath Basin cried one season that they lacked water to grow crops. A year later, the Bush administration tipped scales in irrigators' favor, and caused a massive salmon kill in a warm, low-flowing Klamath River. Climate change is going to require a lot of hard thinking, which better begin right now. "The worst response for all the user/sectors is, given the certainty of intensified conflict, to hunker down to defend 'my slice of the shrinking pie,'" opined Pat Ford of Save Our Wild Salmon. "Global warming's accumulated impacts on our waters are best viewed as a vise, steadily tightening on all water users regardless of past ideology, who's right, and past power relations. A shift is needed, away from old Western 'water is for fighting' lens, to a shared solutions, shared sacrifice, shared shortage lens." The Northwest shares climate impacts with its neighbors in the West. Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the country, its annual average temperature up 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit: Winters have warmed 6.3 degrees.One result is the largest outbreak of tree-killing spruce beetles in the world. In the report's words, rising temperatures "allowed the beetle to survive the winter and to complete its life cycle in half the usual time." The same has happened with the pine bark beetle in Canada. It has killed forests over a Sweden-sized area of British Columbia, has crossed the Continental Divide and threatens to munch its way across the Great White North. In our inland West, more than 50 percent of whitebark pine forests in the Northern Rockies has been lost since 1970 -- largely due to beetle infestations. The whitebark pine anchors the soil at high elevations. Its fatty cones are a key pre-hibernation food for grizzly bears. Hiking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming last summer, retired Forest Service scientist Dr. Jesse Logan showed us tiny holes bored by beetles. "These trees are dead," he said. "They don't know it yet, though. I guess they are zombie trees." A few hours earlier, down in a park at Dubois, oil industry workers told us that global warming was a "hoax." But the hoax is killing the forests above them and melting glaciers that sustain flow of the Wind River. The global-warming report, and its White House release, is welcome on one front: As science struggles to keep up with impacts of global warming, politics is at last trying to keep up with science. "Finally, the U.S. government is leveling with the American people about the threat we all face," said Dr. Jeffrey Short, a former government scientist who now works for Oceana. The U.S. House of Representatives will soon vote on what's known as the Waxman-Markey Bill. It makes concessions to polluters. It sets what Denis Hayes of The Bullitt Foundation calls "a wimpy 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions" as a goal for 2020. Yet, Hayes is urging lawmakers to hold their noses and vote for the bill -- to give the Obama administration credibility and needed momentum in the global effort to curb global warming. "Climate legislation has to pass a Senate in which the oil, coal and electric utility industries wield fearsome power," Hayes said. Some will deny this. Such is their right. It's dangerous, however, to stick your head in the sand when sea levels are rising.
IDAHO STATESMAN: READER'S VIEW — SALMON RECOVERY
Chris Wood: Obama should look to Risch and Crapo's position on salmon, roadless areas
by CHRIS WOOD Two issues, the recovery of Pacific salmon and steelhead and the management of 58.5 million acres of national forest roadless areas, may predict the Obama administration's approach to land and water conservation in the western United States. Ironically, the Democratic administration would do well to look to Idaho - the reddest of the red states - for counsel. To be certain, Idaho has a rich conservation heritage. Sen. Frank Church's legacy is forever memorialized by the wilderness that bears his name. As secretary of the interior, Cecil Andrus oversaw the protection of more than 100 million acres of public land in Alaska. More recently, natural resource politics in Idaho were dominated by Sen. Larry Craig, known more for his defense of extractive industries than support for conservation. Idaho's present senators, Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are demonstrating a new kind of conservation leadership, one that could serve as a road map for the Obama administration. On May 29, Crapo said that in order to recover imperiled stocks of Snake River salmon and steelhead, the federal government should consider all options, including breaching the four lower Snake River dams. This represents the first time a Northwest senator has publicly stated that removing the four lower Snake River dams should be considered. Crapo's comments follow newly elected Sen. Jim Risch's call for establishing a dialogue among advocates for salmon recovery who believe dam removal is essential for recovering imperiled salmon and steelhead, and those who oppose the measure. Risch believes that bringing together the players most affected by the decline and potential recovery of salmon and steelhead is vital to the long-term recovery of the fish and the well-being of the affected communities. Risch has good reason to believe in this approach. He pulled together timber companies, counties, conservation interests and others to protect Idaho's 9 million acres of national forest roadless areas. Due to conflicting judicial opinions over the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (2001 Rule), Idaho now enjoys the strongest regulatory protection for roadless areas in the United States. As evidenced by the successful Owyhee Initiative and the Idaho roadless rule, Crapo and Risch both understand that conservation is most durable when it involves the widest array of interests. When the Bush administration allowed states to propose amendments to the 2001 rule, Idaho and Colorado stepped forward. Unlike Colorado's proposal, the Idaho Rule represents an increase in net protection for roadless areas. Given the uncertainty surrounding the 2001 Rule, the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, should consider a policy to allow states to support the base level of protection of the 2001 Rule, or allow them to improve on it as Idaho has done. Snake River salmon recovery and community well-being are inextricably linked. Directly engaging the communities of place and interest most affected by salmon decline compels conservation interests to become community advocates. Similarly, it helps potentially affected communities recognize the potential benefits of restoration. Idaho's salmon and steelhead migrate nearly 900 miles from the ocean to return to their natal streams to spawn. Most often they return to roadless areas in the national forests of Idaho - the best habitat that remains. Salmon and roadless areas define Idaho. They are a tangible reminder of the heritage and perseverance of the people that endured extraordinary hardships to settle the state. Idaho's senators demonstrate a form of collaborative stewardship that moves away from the tired battles between environmentalists and development interests. Collaborative stewardship is less about pitting competing interests against each another in the name of "good politics," than it is intoning President Theodore Roosevelt's belief in bringing people together to find commonsense solutions to common problems for the common good. Let's hope the Obama administration follows Risch and Crapo's lead. Chris Wood is the chief operating officer at Trout Unlimited. ---
June 6, 2009
IDAHO STATESMAN: What Crapo said about salmon — and why he said it
WestViews: Opinions from newspapers in Idaho and the West commenting on Western issues Our take: By offering to head a regional discussion about salmon recovery - and by keeping dam breaching on the table - Sen. Mike Crapo is the honest broker Idaho salmon have long needed. Lewiston Tribune Anyone who felt U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo abandoned this region last week should consider what the Idaho Republican said about dams and fish. Then think about why Crapo said it. Here's what Crapo said: It's time to bring people who have been fighting for the lower Snake River dams or the region's threatened salmon and steelhead runs to the same table. Crapo offered no endorsement of the dam breaching fish advocates desire. Neither was he flat-out refusing to discuss it. But just acknowledging the possibility was a fresh step outside the shadow of former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who defended the dams at all costs. That's the point of the collaborative efforts, which Crapo utilized to craft his successful Owyhee Wilderness package. Nobody's excluded. No ideas are too outlandish to be discussed. Collaboration has produced agreements to manage Idaho's water, the Henrys Fork of the Snake River, the state's roadless national forests and a Boulder-White Clouds wilderness package that is pending in Congress. Now here's why he said it: Political and judicial currents are shifting. U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland has all but said the old Bush administration's approach to salmon recovery won't meet the Endangered Species Act's requirements. Even a federal judge can't compel federal officials to dismantle the infrastructure of dams. But Redden may dictate how that infrastructure operates. In his May 18 letter to an Obama administration that is likely to respect his views, Redden outlined his options: -Draining more of the upper Snake River for flow augmentation. Southern Idaho irrigators and northern Idaho recreationists will suffer the consequences. -Spilling more water over the dams during the spring and summer. It means less hydroelectric production. -Drawing down reservoirs, such as at John Day, which would undermine shipping. -Preparing contingency plans for breaching the dams. As much as fish advocates might cheer such efforts, it translates into winning a series of skirmishes. By taking Crapo up on the offer to collaborate, they might secure a permanent solution. Likewise, north-central Idaho and eastern Washington agricultural, shipping and dam proponents face the same pressures. They can challenge or even block solutions without imposing a final plan. But this new environment deprives the region of any certainty. Only by working together can each side get what it wants - or at least avoid what it truly dreads. ---
June 5, 2009
OREGONIAN: The false choice on endangered salmon
by Liz Hamilton, guest opinion The Oregonian's recent editorial on the Columbia-Snake salmon debate ("Fresh eyes, fragile deal on Columbia salmon," May 26) unfortunately presents the Northwest with a false choice. The editorial board has been quick to support the settlement agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration and four lower Columbia River tribes and to suggest that changes to the current Columbia-Snake salmon plan or biological opinion would unravel the BPA's agreements. To be clear: The sportfishing industry and our allies support the continued funding of the projects identified in these agreements. But we disagree that the changes necessary to make the federal salmon plan scientifically and legally sound would unravel these accords. The projects within these plans should continue, but the science is clear that these undertakings alone will not recover endangered Columbia River salmon -- in part because only half of the funds in the agreements are directed toward boosting endangered salmon and steelhead populations. This is not -- and should not be cast as -- an either/or question. Salmon need both. We need to fund habitat improvements and tribal hatchery projects in the basin, and we need a scientifically credible and legal biological opinion. The goal is not to end the ongoing litigation. The goal is recovery of endangered salmon and all that they represent to our Northwest way of life -- jobs, tribal and non-tribal culture, and the health of our rivers. All this is at risk if we do not deliver a durable and long-lasting solution to the ongoing salmon crisis -- a solution that protects that Northwest way of life, ends uncertainty and conflict, puts folks back to work and results in a clean-energy future. To reach that solution, the new administration will need to build a table that includes all stakeholders and that considers all scientifically credible options, including the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Since the hydroelectric system is responsible for killing the majority of the salmon in the Columbia Basin, it's only common sense that some fundamental changes to river operations will be a necessary part of legitimate deliberations. Much of the current plan ignores the best available salmon science. For example, the plan rolls back the court-ordered protections that fishermen and fishing businesses fought so hard to put into place. It ignores the science of state, federal and tribal fishery biologists, and it redefines the jeopardy standard of the Endangered Species Act, weakening the core values of the law. If upheld, the radically weakened standard for salmon will eventually apply to every endangered wildlife species in our nation. It's not surprising that U.S. District Judge James Redden's guidance to the parties in the case highlights these same concerns and more. The plan is scientifically and legally inadequate. The Obama administration has an opportunity to protect and restore one of this nation's most important natural resources: wild Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead. We don't need to pit tribes against non-tribal fishermen. We can continue the tribal projects agreed to in the regional settlement discussions, and we can craft a scientifically sound and legally supportable salmon plan. We can and we must do both.
Liz Hamilton is executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. ---
by Marty Trillhaase Anyone who felt U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo abandoned this region last week should consider what the Idaho Republican said about dams and fish. Then think about why Crapo said it. Here's what Crapo said: It's time to bring people who have been fighting for the Lower Snake River dams or the region's threatened salmon and steelhead runs to the same table. "In collaboration, all options have to be all the table, all interest groups must be represented fairly and everyone must come to the table with a willingness to participate. Does that mean dam breaching has to be on the table? - Yes," Crapo said. "But understand that also means not dam breaching must be on the table. All options must be openly and fairly discussed." Crapo offered no endorsement of the dam breaching fish advocates desire. Neither was he flat-out refusing to discuss it. But just acknowledging the possibility was a fresh step outside the shadow of former Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who defended the dams at all costs. That's the point of the collaborative efforts, which Crapo utilized to craft his successful Owyhee Wilderness package. Nobody's excluded. No ideas are too outlandish to be discussed. Collaboration has produced agreements to manage Idaho's water, the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, the state's roadless national forests and a Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness package that is pending in Congress. Now here's why he said it: Political and judicial currents are shifting. U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland has all but said the old Bush administration's approach to salmon recovery won't meet the Endangered Species Act's requirements. Even a federal judge can't compel federal officials to dismantle the infrastructure of dams. But Redden may dictate how that infrastructure operates. In his May 18 letter to an Obama administration that is likely to respect his views, Redden outlined his options: - Draining more of the upper Snake River for flow augmentation. The region already delivers 427,000 acre-feet. He also could order more Dworshak Reservoir water to cool the lower Snake to help migrating fish. Southern Idaho irrigators and northern Idaho recreationists will suffer the consequences.
- Spilling more water over the dams during the spring and summer. It means less hydro-electric production.
- Drawing down reservoirs, such as at John Day, which would undermine shipping.
- Preparing contingency plans for breaching the dams. As much as fish advocates might cheer such efforts, it translates into winning a series of skirmishes. Decades of court challenge and political sniping, which so far have cost ratepayers $1 billion for unsuccessful recovery plans, would continue. By taking Crapo up on the offer to collaborate, they might secure a permanent solution. Likewise, north central Idaho and eastern Washington agricultural, shipping and dam proponents face the same pressures. They can challenge, even block solutions without imposing a final plan. But this new environment deprives the region of any certainty. Only by working together can each side get what it wants - or at least avoid what it truly dreads. Can anyone predict where this collaborative process will lead or what kind of compromise it would produce? No. Not even Crapo - who is seeking a third term next year - can say whether this will enhance or injure his political prospects. But Crapo's idea provides people and interests most directly challenged by this issue a vote in deciding how it's resolved. ---
IDAHO STATESMAN: Our View: Finally, an honest broker tells the truth
IDAHO STATESMAN EDITORIAL BOARD Will Idahoans finally get serious about saving their wild salmon? They will, if they heed the honest and courageous words of Sen. Mike Crapo. On Friday, Crapo said he wants to help save the remarkable fish that have migrated to and from Idaho's mountain rivers for millennia - but have spent close to 20 years on the endangered species list. Rather than talking the salmon issue to death, he is talking about honest discussions to bring the fish back to health. "Does that mean dam breaching should be on the table? Yes. But that also means not dam breaching should be on the table." It's amazing that it has taken so many years for an Idaho politician to speak the truth. For years, Idaho's duplicitous company line has gone something like this: We'll negotiate about almost anything, except breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River. This is bad faith and bad science. Many biologists believe that breaching these four dams in eastern Washington will help young salmon migrate from Idaho to the Pacific, giving these fish their best and perhaps only chance of recovery. Breaching must be a central part of the discussion. And should have been all along. Crapo knows - from painstaking but rewarding firsthand experience - that true negotiation can get results. He and his staff spent seven years pursuing what seemed impossible at the start: a compromise that would protect open space and wildlife habitat in Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands, while maintaining room for long-established ranching operations, off-road vehicle use and U.S. Air Force training. The result, signed into law in March, is Idaho's first wilderness bill in nearly 29 years. Crapo knows a thing or two about what will make negotiation a success, or what will doom it to failure. His belief in collaborative natural resource management approaches the reverential and is grounded in sound process. When Crapo talks about collaboration, the rest of the region should listen. Crapo's timing couldn't be better. Just two weeks ago, the Portland-based U.S. District Court judge reviewing the feds' salmon recovery plan made clear that, in his influential opinion, breaching is on the table. In a letter to attorneys involved in the issue, James Redden urged the feds to develop salmon contingency plans, including a breaching plan. And just last week, the Obama administration demonstrated that it values consensus-based resource solutions. While restricting road building on 49 million acres of national forest, the White House left Idaho's roadless plan intact. The plan, a centerpiece of Sen. Jim Risch's seven-month term as governor, is an artful compromise for managing 9.3 million acres of roadless forest. Two decades into the Northwest's salmon debate, intellectual honesty has become nearly as scarce as the fish themselves. On Friday, candor made a long-overdue comeback. "Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. ---
NEW YORK TIMES: Dr. Lubchenco and the Salmon
The New York Times Editorial Board Jane Lubchenco, the new leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will have more to say than anyone else in Washington about the health of fish species in America's coastal waters. A career marine ecologist, she is widely regarded as tough, smart, respectful of science and deeply committed to the survival and growth of America's fisheries. She will need all of those qualities and more when she confronts what could be her first major test - possibly the most vexing of her tenure - devising a workable and broadly acceptable solution to the grave threats facing the salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest. In a matter of weeks, a federal judge in Seattle will rule on the adequacy of the Bush administration's last recovery plan for a dozen or so endangered or threatened salmon runs in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. Judge James Redden has already rejected two earlier plans. He tossed out a Clinton plan because he found its prescriptions too vague and predictions about the recovery rate for salmon species too speculative. He then tossed out a Bush plan because it did too little to increase water flows over the dams to help move young salmon downstream to the ocean. It was also illegal: The Endangered Species Act requires the recovery of a species, whereas the Bush plan promised little more than allowing the fish to go extinct at a slower rate. This latest plan is an improvement, but it asks only that the fish be "trending toward recovery" - which could mean almost anything, and certainly does not point toward full recovery. It is opposed by environmental groups and the state of Oregon, from which Dr. Lubcheco hails. It also is unlikely to pass muster with the judge. That would set the stage for intervention by the Obama administration and, one hopes, a much better recovery plan. As part of that plan, we urge the administration to consider removing the four dams on the Lower Snake River, which many scientists see as critical to the species' recovery. The Clinton plan held open that possibility; the Bush plan did not. Encouragingly, Dr. Lubchenco has already shown a capacity to confront tough problems. Last week, she asked the hidebound and suspicious fishermen of New England to entertain a radical shift in the way they manage their fisheries. Instead of the current race to catch the last fish, Dr. Lubchenco is calling on them instead to submit to an ownership system known as "catch shares" under which they would be given a fixed share of the fishery and, with it, a strong financial interest in having the fishery survive and grow. The idea has worked well in several countries, like Australia. It also captured the attention of Congress and the Bush administration. Getting New England's traditionalists to accept a new idea will not be easy, but it is necessary. New England's fisheries suffer from overfishing, the Pacific Northwest's from habitat loss. What both places suffer from is a failure to act.
So the lower Snake's No. 3 ranking Tuesday in a national environmental group's annual "endangered rivers list" reflects p.r. maneuvering. The lower Snake didn't even make the American Rivers Top 10 list a year ago.
American Rivers — a Washington. D.C.-based group with offices and more than 65,000 members and supporters nationwide — is clearly trying to raise the stakes and the national profile of the salmon issue.
And why not?
A new president. New faces in Congress. Another federal court decision — expected later this spring — on a leftover Bush administration salmon recovery plan. There is no better time for salmon advocates to go national on the Snake River salmon issue.
Even with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game predicting the largest chinook salmon return since 2001, the long-range prognosis for Idaho's wild salmon remains uncertain, largely because of the river conditions created by the four dams on the lower Snake River. The dams create a lethal hurdle to young salmon migrating to the Pacific Ocean, and a lazy 140-mile slackwater river laden with predators that feast on salmon returning to spawn.
A good argument, but hardly a new argument. Same goes for the environmentalists' case that the high-altitude salmon spawning habitat in Idaho's Stanley Basin is critical to the long-term health of the species. Global warming will affect lower-altitude spawning streams, making the Snake River Basin a potential "salmon stronghold," says American Rivers.
The lone new wrinkle: Environmentalists are taking aim at the epicenter of Idaho's dam-breaching antipathy, the Lewiston area. They argue that the lower Snake dams, which turned Lewiston into Idaho's port city, now pose a flood threat to the Lewiston area. So much silt has accumulated behind the dams that taxpayers will either have to spend $87 million to protect Lewiston by raising the levees — or remove the dams. But even the silt buildup is an old story, one deployed both by breaching advocates and critics.
So if the talking points haven't changed much, the political climate certainly has. As much as anything, the American Rivers ranking is directed at one person: President Obama. Environmentalists hope Obama takes up the cause of salmon recovery, whether or not U.S. District Judge James Redden tosses out the Bush administration's final stab at a salmon plan.
"If the plan is invalidated, the Obama administration and the Northwest congressional delegation must convene negotiations that include discussion of lower Snake dam removal," writes American Rivers. "If the plan is not invalidated, the Obama administration should withdraw the Bush-era plan and convene stakeholders to forge a new plan that will work for Snake River salmon and Northwest communities in light of the threats posed by the dams and global warming."
And American Rivers isn't alone in lobbying the administration. Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus is urging Obama to work with Northwest lawmakers, such as Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who have expressed an interest in regional negotiations.
"Because good salmon policy is good jobs policy, it fits the president's focus on the economy," wrote Andrus in a recent guest opinion in the Oregonian.
Andrus doesn't go so far as to side with the salmon advocates on breaching; Andrus doesn't mention dam-breaching in his guest opinion and, like Obama, Andrus has not advocated this step. But Andrus is still a powerful force on the side of salmon advocates — the former Interior secretary, an early Obama campaign supporter, would surely have traction with the administration.
Salmon advocates have waited through the Bush years to press the reset on the dam-breaching debate. With a more environmentally friendly administration in place, they aren't holding back. This debate is about to get a lot more interesting.
IDAHO STATESMAN: Salmon judge's message is 'Solve this yourselves' Idaho's salmon face a familiar plight, but the political environment finally may be favorable to the fish. A federal judge has exhorted the region to save its iconic ocean-going fish for once and for all, and he's sending the right message. Let's see if a new White House and new regional lawmakers take up the challenge. We hope they do. This may be as fresh a chance as the fish will get. James Redden took a noncommittal position Friday when he convened a hearing in a Portland courtroom. The U.S. district judge has thrown out two federal government plans for salmon recovery in the Northwest. He has on his docket a third plan, a holdover from the Bush administration. Redden didn't drop any hints to the Obama administration - seeming to prefer a wait-and-see approach. Makes sense. We haven't seen how this new administration will try to save salmon, including the Idaho runs that have spent nearly two decades on the endangered species list.
We want the administration to make the most of the opportunity. Theirs is a chance to bring together agency experts, water users, Indian tribes and salmon advocates in an effort to move this issue out of the courts and move the fish away from the brink of extinction. Compared to its predecessors, we think this new administration will almost have to be more likely to heed Redden's call for consensus. In the same vein, we're willing to give the Northwest's political leaders a chance. The tone has changed; gone is Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who was an impediment to meaningful compromise that would put the salmon on an equal plane with utilities and water users. His successor, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has pledged to convene regional negotiations on salmon and has already spoken to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Newly elected 1st District Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, has also expressed an interest in the process. Among those who have closely watched the region's protracted - and frustrating - salmon debate, Redden has achieved a certain star stature. His hearings and rulings have gone a long way in framing the issue during the past decade. The reactions have been predictable. To salmon advocates, Redden has been the voice of reason, saving the fragile fish from ill-conceived federal policy. To his detractors, Redden personified judicial activism. The Redden who held court Friday was less judicial activist than community organizer. He summoned a region to the bargaining table.
Does the region have the guts and good sense to listen? "Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the end of this century, will the Pacific Northwest's salmon still be an icon? Or will the chinooks, silvers and other migrating fish of the great runs be a mere memory?
It's up to us.
The start of President Barack Obama's administration is a hopeful time for environmental policy, nationally and in this region. Obama will bring better judgment to such Northwest issues as forests, roadless areas and energy. But even with sustained, widespread progress on the environment generally, saving salmon will require a wide variety of aggressive measures.
Ideas for urban growth controls and dam removals might even be considered radical. But after eight years of an administration with a stunted vision for the health of the nation's environment, the need for bolder salmon measures is at a peak, all along the Pacific Coast.
Neither the 20th century nor the last half of the 19th was kind to salmon runs. The Pacific salmon are far healthier than Atlantic Coast runs, but overfishing, degradation of habitat and the building of the Columbia River system dams all helped devastate the salmon and the human and natural ecosystems.
As an excellent report in Oregon State University's Terra magazine puts it, salmon can rebound if the public and policymakers are willing to take strong enough measures. But, U.S. Geological Service scientist Carl Schreck told Terra, "We need to get going now. There isn't a lot of time to waste."
Recreation and fishing business leaders are writing to Obama echoing Save Our Wild Salmon's calls for bringing together stakeholders, including farmers and businesses, to consider the best scientific and economic information on the dams. The business leaders write, "A comprehensive, commonsense salmon recovery effort that replaces the lower Snake River dams with cost-effective, modern alternatives will create family-wage jobs, restore salmon and recreation, expand clean energy opportunities, and protect our outdoor way of life. With science leading the way, the hope of real salmon abundance ... can be realized." Save Our Wild Salmon has advanced another smart idea that would help Puget Sound: appointing a White House Council on Environmental Quality director of salmon.
Oregon State and an Environmental Protection Agency lab have taken leading roles in the Salmon 2100 Project. The study suggested that population growth and development will contribute to further reductions in salmon numbers along the Pacific Coast this century. Even so, the study concluded, society could put in enough environmental protections to save salmon.
Schreck told Terra, "We can plan for growth, make wise resource allocations, handle water and sewage requirements and limit our urban footprint." The fate of salmon depends on whether humans can make better informed, wiser choices this century than over the past 150 years.
Don Chapman is a regional salmon expert who spent a career advising electric utilities - and now supports breaching four hydroelectric dams in an attempt to save salmon.
These experts, among others, have co-authored a blunt assessment about the future of salmon, and a blistering indictment of the divisive politics and faulty science that have pushed the fish to the edge of extinction. The report has a specific audience: the Obama administration that now inherits jurisdiction over salmon. The report also should be required reading for anyone who cares about the region's salmon.
Citing low numbers of spawning redds in Idaho's Salmon River region - some of the Northwest's most pristine habitat - the authors say the salmon have made only modest population gains after nearly 20 years on the federal government's endangered species list.
The group isn't bashful about assessing blame.
In eight years in office, the Bush White House "systematically subverted" efforts to beef up recovery plans.
The Bonneville Power Administration - the federal agency that markets the region's hydropower and also bankrolls federal salmon recovery projects - has attempted to "shut down" its critics and "coerce support" for its recovery efforts. The BPA has cut deals with the state of Idaho and several Northwest Indian tribes, providing money for habitat programs if its partners agree not to go to federal court to argue for dam breaching.
Because Northwest hydroelectric production is a lucrative business, utilities and power customers have sought an oversight role in salmon recovery, resulting in "gridlock and conflict."
The experts' prognosis: "Only intervention by the highest levels of the Obama administration can cut through the varying interests to save the fish from looming extinction." This would sound like easily dismissed alarmism, were it not for the authors' credentials and expertise.
Consistent with the crisis at hand, the scientists make bold, controversial suggestions. They say Obama should appoint a senior official to lead and coordinate salmon recovery efforts scattered among an alphabet soup of federal agencies. The administration should work on a federal water management plan covering Northwest states. Calling the region's dams the "prime cause" of declining salmon populations, they argue for a National Academy of Sciences study of the costs and benefits of breaching the lower Snake River dams.
From a lesser group, this would read like a desperate wish list. But the group's experience gives credence to these recommendations.
A new president is inundated with advice from self-styled experts and bona fide authorities. These authors clearly fall into the latter category. They call themselves a "council of elders," career officials who now "are able to speak freely to avoid further harm to the public good." These scientists have spoken freely—and urgently—about the task at hand.
"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.
A new day is dawning for salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest. In the span of two weeks last November, the complex chessboard that comprises salmon recovery in Idaho began to look more optimistic for the first time in eight years.
The November elections, pending court verdicts and the recent settlement to remove four lethal dams on the Klamath River in California and Oregon, paint a brighter future for species that have been teetering on the brink of extinction for decades.
However, focusing solely on studies like the one touted in a Reader View published in the Dec. 12 Idaho Statesman is misleading. While the study cited is an important piece of the puzzle, it is only a fragment of a complex issue.
Common sense, to use author Terry Flores' words, suggests that residents of the Pacific Northwest might begin looking forward to a more free-flowing, optimistic era that includes more jobs, restored fisheries, a modernized energy infrastructure that isn't lethal for salmon and a refitted transportation system. Common sense also suggests that many juvenile Idaho salmon that have to survive four dams and reservoirs on the lower Snake River, and then four more on the Columbia River, will die in the process.
While the study's underlying premise that ocean conditions are a major factor in salmon mortality makes sense, a sweeping conclusion that dams make no difference in survival rates is not supported by its authors and is at odds with a long history of independent, peer-reviewed science that says exactly the opposite.
The study, published in October in the open access journal PloS Biology, compares salmon migration and survival in the Fraser and Columbia-Snake river systems. Bert Bowler, a 30-year fisheries biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, maintains the study lacks scientific rigor for drawing such conclusions from two completely different river systems. The tagging mythology used in the study to make the survival comparisons between river systems is precarious at best, Bowler said.
One of the studies' authors also does not negate dams as a major factor.
"Despite the obvious comparison, it would be overly simplistic to say that dams have no impact on smolt survival, because we know they do," said Carl Schreck, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University and the U.S. Geological Survey and an author of the study. "There also may be some additional delayed mortality of Columbia River smolts caused by the stress of passage through the hydrosystem that is not manifested until the fish reach the ocean."
The Fraser/Columbia study has been used in the media and by Flores to argue that a focus on Snake-Columbia dams is misplaced. However, previous studies have established beyond doubt that Columbia-Snake salmon suffer delayed mortality due to dam-related stresses that the fish experience as they pass as many as eight dams on their way to the ocean.
While it is unclear what kind of ocean-related projects could benefit salmon survival rates, it is clear that improving the migration corridor in fresh water will give salmon runs the boost they need most.
With lower Snake dam removal, the critical issues become clear. The key issues are economic, engineering and political. At Idaho Rivers United, we believe that people can find a solution that benefits fish while also helping wheat growers, electricity users and communities. A win-win solution is possible if the new administration and the Northwest's members of Congress seize the new opportunity to create a process in which all stakeholders can sit down to find common ground.
We need all stakeholders involved, including those whose jobs, towns, families and values depend on restored salmon runs.
Greg Stahl is the assistant policy director for Idaho Rivers United.
It is a time of hope for people working to restore wild salmon. One of the toughest conflicts is in the Columbia/Snake Basin, where federal policy has been frozen in un-creativity for eight years. Now, election changes, looming court verdicts, dialogue between farmers and fishermen in Western Washington, and the recent all-party settlement to remove four dams on the Klamath River offer an opportunity on the Columbia/Snake. Fishermen, farmers and ratepayers have a big stake in seizing this opportunity.
Good science must be a foundation in any settlement. So we welcome the point in The Bellingham Herald's Dec. 6 "Our View" editorial headlined "New science may change tactics to save salmon," that people and policymakers should attend to new salmon science as well as accumulated science. We also agree that, despite many millions spent on Columbia/Snake salmon, payoff has been disappointing - another reason to make sure good science underlies our investments.
But other points in the editorial were incomplete. The editorial mentioned only one study as an example of "new science" - a recent analysis of juvenile salmon survival in the Fraser and Columbia/Snake rivers. It interpreted that study's results too broadly. And its suggestion that salmon recovery focus more on "ocean projects" could easily lead to even worse investment results.
We agree the Fraser/Columbia study should be considered by those working to restore Columbia salmon. So should other recent science.
Two examples: this summer the Fish Passage Center, which for 20 years has housed the vast data record for salmon survival through Columbia/Snake dams, released an analysis showing that increased spill of water over those dams during juvenile salmon migration led to more adult salmon two and three years later. This great news validates a practical tool - spill - which dam managers can use to produce more salmon and salmon jobs. The increased spill is owed to Tribes and fishing/conservation groups, who won it in court against federal opposition.
Second, University of Idaho researchers just published an analysis showing that barging and trucking of juvenile Columbia/Snake salmon by federal hydro agencies leads to lower survival than for salmon that migrate in the water. Since barging and trucking is the dominant management tool used by dam agencies to "help" salmon, this is a crucial finding. Fishermen have long thought the hundreds of millions so far spent barging salmon have largely been wasted; this new study suggests we are right.
The Fraser/Columbia study has been used in the media to argue that a focus on Columbia dams is misplaced. We don't think the study reached or leads to that conclusion.
We agree with Carl Schreck, professor of fisheries at Oregon State University and one of the study's authors, who said, "It would be overly simplistic to say that dams have no impact on (young salmon) survival, because we know they do."
For example, the study did not address delayed mortality - accumulated stresses on young salmon migrating through up to eight dams and reservoirs, or sluiced into mixed-species barges for downstream travel. That delayed mortality seems to be what is at work upon the barged salmon analyzed in the Idaho study.
Finally, we urge conservatism when weighing money for "ocean projects" against money for protecting and restoring freshwater and estuary habitats.
We support gathering the best possible science, and we have much more to learn about salmon during their ocean years. But it is difficult to define "ocean projects" that would actually boost salmon survivals, and there is no doubt that restoring critical freshwater habitats will increase survivals.
There is no doubt, for instance, that removing the four lower Snake River dams will increase survival for four now-endangered salmon and steelhead species, and for hatchery stocks which support critical fisheries and jobs.
With lower Snake dam removal, and with spill, the most critical issues for analysis are economic, engineering and political: can we restore Columbia/Snake salmon while also benefiting Eastern Washington wheat growers and Northwest electricity users? We think the answer is yes - if a new federal government, and members of Congress from the salmon states, seize the opportunity we now have to create a process like that on the Klamath where the key parties can sit down to find common ground on science, jobs, law, and community.
Jeremy Brown is a Bellingham fisherman and local salmon restoration activist. Pat Ford is executive director of the Save Our wild Salmon coalition.
Bill McKibben is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College, the author of a dozen books about the environment, and the cofounder of the 350.org campaign, a global grassroots effort to fight climate change.
The Klamath River in northern California has been ground zero for one of the most contentious environmental battles in decades.
Four dams on this river have provided irrigation water and electrical power, but have also been responsible for devastating salmon reproduction in the river, once the third-richest salmon-producing fishery in the country. This battle for water was brought to a head in 2002 when Vice President Dick Cheney personally supervised an order mandating reduced water flow into the river at a critical time for salmon reproduction, resulting in the killing of more than 70,000 salmon.
While the administration may have felt it was protecting the economic interests of the region, the move backfired, as all commercial salmon fishing off the coasts of California and Oregon was closed down this summer due to lack of fish, resulting in a devastating loss of revenue.
This November a significant agreement to remove the four dams was reached among PacifiCorp, the owner of the dams; the Bush administration; and Native American tribal representatives and angling interests. If such an agreement can be reached with the current administration, then, when President-elect Barack Obama takes the helm, it will be time to take a similar approach for the removal of the four salmon-killing dams on the lower Snake River.
Redfish Lake at Stanley, Idaho, is so named because it once teemed with red sockeye salmon. These salmon, born in Idaho, swim down the Salmon, Snake and Columbia rivers into the ocean to mature, and migrate back to the lake for spawning.
This migration, the most arduous of any salmon run, requires a round trip of 1,800 miles with an elevation gain of over 7,000 feet. Although tens of thousands of sockeye salmon made this migration in the past, the dams between Redfish Lake and the ocean have decimated their numbers such that in past years fewer than 10 fish have made this journey.
Salmon swimming from Redfish Lake to the ocean encounter eight dams. The four dams on the main stem of the Columbia negatively impact salmon returns, but it is the four built on the lower Snake River in the early 1960s that have had the most detrimental effect.
These four dams together create a near-continuous slack water of 140 miles that kills the salmon smolts by elevating water temperatures, reducing oxygen content, enhancing predation and reducing the river flow that is required for these immature fish to swim downstream.
The four lower Snake River dams do provide electricity and irrigation water and facilitate barge traffic. Shipping of commodities by barge, however, is only economically competitive with rail shipping thanks to government subsidies.
A recent study indicated the federal government could save $1.6 billion to $4.6 billion over the next 20 years by removing the dams. So the basic question is are these dams worth saving for their modest electricity generation compared to their devastating impacts upon anadromous fish populations?
Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho, who were replaced in the last election, have consistently blocked any meaningful dialogue over this issue. In their absence, and with the guidance of a new administration, the future of these dams and Snake River salmon can be rationally discussed.
Virtually every government and non-governmental study has come to the conclusion that these dams must come down to prevent the extinction of wild salmon and steelhead that spawn in Idaho waters. Hopefully, in a new political environment, the recommendations of these studies will be heeded.
John H. Weis is a conservationist and an avid angler.
U.S. Rep. John Dingell, recently removed as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, has touched the lives of people all over this country because of the unique reach of the committee he has served since 1955. He has a hand in everything from the communication technology you use to the air you breathe.
But for us, 1,500 miles from his congressional district along Lake Erie south of Detroit, Dingell's love of one of our fish, the steelhead trout, and his firm grip on energy policy nearly 30 years ago profoundly affected the way we conduct the electricity business in our region.
The steelhead is a highly successful Midwest transplant of a Northwest icon. A powerful fighter, it is a rainbow trout that goes to sea and grows bigger and stronger than its stay-at-home cousin. Starting 120 years ago, fishermen from the Midwest started planting offspring of the fish they caught on our great Steelhead rivers — the McCloud, the Stillaguamish, the Klamath. Over time, the fish made the same journey they did here only in the Great Lakes and made it possible for citizens there to stand in 35-degree water that is moving way too fast for comfort and cast for steelhead in a stiff, hypothermic motion, just like we do out here.
An outdoorsman, and back then a highly mobile one, Dingell loved doing just that and was hardy enough to outlast any companion and connect with plenty of fish.
His love of the outdoors and his experience with the salmon in Lake Erie made Dingell highly influential and knowledgeable in the development of the Pacific Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act. This law redistributed the output of federal power generation in the Northwest, put conservation on the table as the first choice for new power and laid the Bonneville Power Administration's checkbook next to it. The bill also had the effect of saving the region's aluminum industry for a decade and significantly increased the influence of the states on federal electricity policy through the four-state Regional Power Council.
But most fascinating to me was an Energy and Commerce Committee markup of the legislation several weeks before its final passage at the end of 1980. Dingell distributed a piece of paper that amended the language of the Fish and Wildlife section of the bill, adding the word "enhance" so that the language read:
"The Council shall promptly develop and adopt, pursuant to this subsection, a program to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish and wildlife, including related spawning grounds and habitat, on the Columbia River and its tributaries. Because of the unique history, problems, and opportunities presented by the development and operation of hydroelectric facilities on the Columbia River and its tributaries, the program, to the greatest extent possible, shall be designed to deal with that river and its tributaries as a system."
The effect of the language was to put the fish on a more level playing field with the production of electricity and the provision of irrigation. The old law — "protect and mitigate", essentially meant "stuff happens." The new law made the fish an everyday player in river decisions. Originally, the idea of enhancement seemed an easy mark — more hatchery fish. But, over time, enhancement began to mean more wild fish because of the need to keep greater genetic diversity in the event of disease or other changed conditions. That has dictated a move from a central incubation scheme to a much more significant focus on habitat preservation through acquisition or regulation.
The language also was the genesis of a whole new industry within the region — scientists, technicians and planners — who depend on the fish enhancement business and high water flows of BPA money. Through 2005, BPA had spent some $8 billion dollars in foregone electricity revenues and cash and will spend about a half billion in its most recent plan covering 2009 and 2010.
Assessing the success of Dingell's enhancement language is equal parts science, politics, theology and anthropology. The region has not delivered a coherent message to the regional ratepayers who are funding Dingell's idea. One day we read of a wall of salmon moving up the Columbia, the next we read about a listing under the Endangered Species Act. We are frequently in court over the legality of counting hatchery salmon. So many decisions are made in a federal court in Oregon that it's hard to know the real outcome for the fish. The complexity of the many salmon races entering and leaving the river systems and the many factors along their 4,000-mile journey create many fingers pointed at an infinity of evils.
To the question "are the fish any better off?" an old veteran of the salmon wars tells me: "You know, it's possible."
We should tell this story better. Dingell is removed as chairman, and the new guy, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, is not a fisherman.
Bob Royer worked on the Pacific Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Act and its implementation while with the City of Seattle. He is managing partner at Gallatin Public Affairs in Seattle.
Puget Sound's orcas are dying. Seven whales, nearly 10 percent of the population, disappeared this summer and are presumed dead. There were reports of "skinny" whales spread out for miles, foraging intensely, suggesting a lack of food. If the seven missing whales did not actually starve to death, malnutrition likely made them more vulnerable to disease. So to determine why the orcas are dying, we must ask, "What happened to their food?" Puget Sound orcas eat almost nothing but salmon, mostly large Chinook. But today the Sound's Chinook are listed as endangered; 15 of the historic Chinook runs are now extinct and other populations are just 10 percent of what they were. But Puget Sound is not the only source of Chinook for orcas. In fact, the federal government's orca recovery plan suggests that the biggest change in food availability for Puget Sound's orcas since the late 1800s is a decline not in Puget Sound salmon, but salmon from the Columbia/Snake River basin. From historic levels of 16 million salmon each year, Columbia salmon runs have dropped to about a million fish annually. Similarly, Chinook populations have crashed in the Klamath and Sacramento rivers, forcing a ban this year on all Chinook fishing from Mexico to Washington. So as our orcas head down the coast this winter, they will be hard-pressed to find enough food. Many of those weakened by hunger may not return next spring. The West Coast salmon crisis has become an orca crisis, too. Biologists have seen this coming. A year ago, a group of scientists sent a letter to the regional administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warning that our orcas' food supply was down and that we could not rely on existing measures alone to address the problem. Those scientists called for removing four outdated federal dams on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington to open up valuable Chinook habitat and stop severe salmon declines. But NOAA has flatly rejected this suggestion; the dams remain; and salmon continue to disappear. On Dec. 1, the Puget Sound Partnership will issue an action plan that hopefully will reduce the torrent of toxins that pour into the Sound every day and protect and restore habitat for forage fish that so many birds and fish, including salmon, depend on. What it won't do is address the Columbia/Snake issue, which must not be ignored. Let's to move swiftly to fund and carry out a strong plan to restore the health of Puget Sound and its salmon. And let's do what it takes to bring salmon back to the Columbia/Snake. The federal government isn't doing what's needed to restore endangered salmon and orcas in the Pacific Northwest. The status quo is not working and our rich ecosystem is in serious trouble. If we lose the salmon, we definitely lose the orcas. Salmon need clean habitat to spawn in and food to grow. Given a fighting chance, they can recover. If we give that chance to our salmon, we will have a hope of saving our orcas. Kathy Fletcher is executive director of People For Puget Sound. Howard Garrett is co-founder of Orca Network.
New scientific analysis on Columbia/Snake River dams and salmon survival emerges regularly. Since these salmon are endangered by extinction, this attention is merited. Having followed that science for 30 years, I have concluded that in the Columbia we should provide higher flows and more spill over dams, and in the Snake we should remove the lower Snake dams.
Last Monday, the journal PLoS Biology published a paper entitled "Survival of Migrating Salmon Smolts in Large Rivers With and Without Dams," that compares salmon survival in the Columbia and Canada's Fraser River. The Oregonian covered it in both news and editorial sections. But the way the study was released generated confusion.
A press release misleadingly titled, "Dams Make No Damn Difference to Salmon Survival" was sent to media, but the study neither proves nor concludes that. Later, two of the study's authors issued their own release rejecting that statement, and the press release was subsequently withdrawn. But the damage was done; The Oregonian editorial's title echoed the inaccurate sound bite.
It will now be hard to separate the study's actual results from confusion caused by a clumsy release. Those actual results are now part of a 30-year body of science documenting that Columbia/Snake dams are the largest human-caused mortality factor to the basin's salmon. Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife, whose fisheries division I once directed, has been a leader in that science, and its scientists are among the best in our region. I wish the Oregonian had consulted them while writing its editorial.
A few months ago the Fish Passage Center released an analysis concluding that extra spill over dams ordered in 2006-07 by the U.S. District Court - spill that fishing groups and Indian Tribes asked for and federal agencies opposed - led to significantly more salmon returning this year. It is too bad the Oregonian chose not to report or editorialize on that report, given the light it sheds on how to manage Columbia dams so we have more salmon.
The PloS paper's most telling point to me is that the Fraser salmon stocks are doing more poorly than I realized. The Fraser and Columbia are very different rivers, but I think the study supports the conclusion that Columbia stocks are also doing poorly. While I agree with the Oregonian that salmon survival has improved at the Columbia/Snake dams, I don't think that improvement is or will be enough. The scientific case remains strong that we need more flow and spill in the Columbia, and we need to remove the four lower Snake River dams in order to restore 140 miles of productive, free-flowing salmon spawning and migratory habitats. Those conditions will produce more salmon than 140 miles of slow, steadily warming reservoirs interspersed with four large bank-to-bank dams, whose presence leads most migrating salmon to be sluiced into crowded, mixed-species barges and trucks for their downstream journey.
Salmon science is a mosaic. Each new analysis is a piece added to a big picture. It is not about sound bites.
Jim Martin is retired after a 30-year career in fisheries research and management, including a period as director of the fisheries division of Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife. He is a recognized leader in investigating the effects of global warming on Oregon rivers and fish.
My name is Emily Nuchols. I am an activist.
Four Snake River sockeye made it to their spawning grounds at Redfish Lake in the mountains of Idaho last year. Three returned in 2006. These fish fight more than 900 miles upstream and climb more than 6,500 feet in elevation—that’s the distance from Denver to Chicago and higher than five Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of another.
I am an activist because I cannot watch these fish go extinct.
The Columbia and Snake River Basin used to boast salmon runs of more than 16 million annually—today, wild returns linger near just 1 percent of that number. The coho salmon in these rivers went extinct in the 1980s, and all other Snake River salmon and steelhead are now listed as endangered.
The United States government is knowingly letting these salmon disappear in order to protect four outdated and costly dams on the lower Snake River. These dams were built in the 1970s primarily for barge traffic transporting Eastern Washington wheat to market. For nearly two decades, the federal government has violated the Endangered Species Act. It has yet to produce a scientifically credible plan that will pass legal muster and restore wild salmon and steelhead on the Columbia and Snake rivers. This fall, a federal judge is expected to rule on the Bush administration’s latest, and likely illegal, salmon plan.
These dams are just one of many types of obstacles salmon tackle in their journey, but they are a huge one. The four lower Snake River dams kill up to 90 percent of ocean-going salmon.
Technical fixes such as fish ladders and trucking or barging salmon around dams will not restore robust runs of salmon and steelhead. The Snake River Basin has the best salmon-spawning habitat in the Lower 48, but it is blocked by the Columbia-Snake River hydro system. Salmon and steelhead are some of the toughest survivors I’ve ever seen, but they have a limit.
Laws, like the Endangered Species Act, developed in a bipartisan spirit have been revoked or ignored. We have the power and the responsibility to demand the government live up to its obligation to protect our air, water and natural resources. By clinging to the status quo, we are letting corporate desires prevail over conservation and driving an iconic species to extinction.
We have a chance to make amends on this river, with this species—to take on a tremendous river restoration project—and recover salmon populations, revitalize rail transportation and breathe new life into our rural and coastal communities.
We have to restore these amazing fish to our rivers. We’ve pushed them to the brink and we continue to push. With many rivers and salmon runs, we’ve already pushed too hard. As humans, we sometimes forget that we ourselves are all part of a greater ecosystem and that every action we take has an effect on the health of our planet. We spend much of our time figuring out how to change the environment to fit our needs. It’s time for us to adapt.
This year, the collapse of the Sacramento River salmon fishery triggered the first-ever proposed complete ban of West Coast commercial fishing south of Washington state. Pacific salmon stocks are in crisis, elected leaders are failing us and we are running out of time. Our generation is faced with climate change, mass extinctions and an outrageous consumption of finite natural resources. I act because I have to.
Last year, I kayaked through Lower Granite dam near Lewiston, Idaho, with an Eastern Washington wheat farmer who uses the barge-shipping corridor on the lower Snake. Dropping nearly 100 feet in the locks, I caught a glimpse of what these fish must fight to survive. That day, I accepted the responsibility to protect them. It is not a burden. We have a responsibility to protect our land and water for our kids and grandkids. We are capable of changing the world. We just have to act.
Wild salmon and steelhead are important symbols to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. These native fish help define our region, our history and culture, our economy and our spirit. The state has a long legacy of protecting our wild fish for future generations so they remain a vital part of our heritage, and it's a legacy worth fighting for.
More than three years ago, I joined a lawsuit with conservation groups and Native American tribes challenging the federal government over the negative effects of the Columbia and Lower Snake River dams on wild salmon and steelhead. I joined the suit because the federal government was failing to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act to protect and recover our native fish.
The courts agreed with Oregon and directed federal agencies to rewrite their plan for operating the dams on the Columbia and Snake to ensure the protection of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. Oregon worked for more than two years with those agencies, states and tribes in an attempt to ensure the next plan would put Columbia River salmon and steelhead on a path to recovery.
On Monday, the federal government unveiled its latest plan and biological opinion. Again, it falls far short of what needs to be done.
Instead of improving river conditions for migrating fish, the plan reduces flow, which will result in slower movement of fish through the river system, which reduces their survival. The plan also reduces spill, which will increase mortality rates by sending more young fish through the dams' turbines, and it will increase the artificial transport of fish around dams, relying more on barges and trucks. Last, the plan diverts attention from necessary changes in the operation of the dams by focusing on hatcheries and tributary habitat improvements that are inadequate to recovering Oregon's native fish. Any dam improvements proposed in the plan are clouded by a failure to test benefits to fish prior to maximizing power production. This new plan is not a credible approach to the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead.
Oregon's assessment of the plan is based on solid science. Our science is supported with technical evaluations from state, federal and tribal salmon managers from the Columbia Basin, including fish and wildlife agencies from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
Some states and tribes have recently entered into agreements with the federal government to support the latest federal plan and opinion. I support their efforts to secure funding for hatcheries, habitat and tribal infrastructure. But I take issue with the plan's lack of improvement and accountability in the hydropower system, which remains the primary constraint to native fish recovery.
I am resolved to keep fighting for our wild salmon and steelhead. I prefer to settle Oregon's issues with the federal government at the negotiating table but, thus far, such negotiations have yielded little. If it requires another round of litigation, and that is my only option, then I will pursue that option. Oregon's interests and the future of our wild salmon and steelhead are that important to me — to all of us.
If Oregon doesn't stand up for our wild salmon and steelhead, who will? It is our natural heritage. It is the right thing to do.
Ted Kulongoski is governor of Oregon.
The federal government’s decision to shut down commercial salmon fishing from the California coast to north-central Oregon is a blow to local fishermen and the coastal economy.
This decision is necessary if there is to be any hope of salmon recovery. It will mean even more if it shocks Congress into a serious investigation of the West Coast salmon crisis, exposes the politically driven policies of the Bush administration and persuades a new president of the need to rebuild wild salmon populations and the economies that depend on them.
Chinook salmon runs in the Sacramento River in California’s Central Valley have collapsed. The numbers of salmon returning to spawn, which had held steady at about 475,000 for several years, dropped to 90,000 last year and were expected to be half that this year.
Two factors are suspected. The federal government yielded to the demands of big agricultural interests and diverted so much of the Sacramento’s normal river flow to farmers that many baby salmon — who need free-flowing water to push them downstream — could not make it to the ocean. Scientists also believe that abnormalities in ocean temperatures, possibly related to global warming, could have deprived the fish who managed to get downstream of their food supply.
Two other coastal systems, historically rich in salmon, are in trouble. The Klamath River Basin experienced devastating collapses in 2005 and 2006. In the huge Columbia-Snake River Basin, a dozen different varieties of wild salmon are listed as endangered or threatened. In both cases, federal policy that disproportionately favors energy interests and agricultural users is a major factor. Karl Rove himself intervened in the Klamath to make sure the farmers prevailed.
In the Columbia-Snake system, where dams are a huge problem, a federal district judge in Oregon, James Redden, has rejected three federal recovery plans, including one from the Clinton administration. He has threatened to assume management of the dams if Washington cannot produce an acceptable fish recovery plan.
California’s Congressional delegation said last week that it would seek as much as $150 million in disaster aid to help coastal fishermen. A long-term salmon recovery plan would be of even greater value.
The possibility of $40-a-pound wild salmon arises out of many factors. More than fuel prices, demand or cyclic ocean conditions, a likely increase in salmon prices stands as a testament to human devastation of a precious species, its habitat and the environment.
The biggest problems now are among Sacramento River chinook, which are caught off the coast of California and Oregon. But there are numerous troubled runs from Alaska, Puget Sound watersheds and the Columbia River.
While experts debate the ins and outs of each turn in the salmon woes, the troubles have roots in political unwillingness to make well-informed decisions about fish and habitat. The Bush administration's treatment of the Columbia River is a case in point.
It's modestly encouraging that federal agencies reached a settlement with four Columbia River tribes on fish, habitat and dam improvement issues. But the heart of a continuing legal fight over the operation of the river and its hydroelectric system remains whether the government is handling decisions responsibly. Until good judgment and sound science guide salmon decisions, the sky will be the limit for prices. And the odds for a return of plentiful salmon runs will continue to dive.
Comments on the salmon agreement, announced Monday:
Steve Wright, administrator, Bonneville Power Administration: "Today these parties are saying let's lay down the swords, let's spend more time working collaboratively to implement measures that help fish and less time litigating."
Bill Sedivy, executive director, Idaho Rivers United: "BPA's deal does little more than silence many good tribal biologists and policymakers. ... It's wrong for BPA to use ratepayer and taxpayer dollars to suppress the facts."
The feds promised to spend $900 million Monday - without having to make a hard decision.
The federal government committed to more than 200 fish and wildlife projects, benefiting the Columbia River basin's salmon and steelhead, and other fish including sturgeon and lamprey. The feds followed up Wednesday with a 10-year, $65 million deal for hatcheries, habitat improvement and water purchases in Idaho.
These aren't necessarily bad projects; some might actually be good for the region's ecology.
But these plans fail to address the problems facing Idaho's endangered salmon. Worse than that, the tribal deal marginalizes the groups that are pushing the feds to address the biggest problem facing Idaho salmon: the four federal dams on the lower Snake River.
Here's the short version of the tribal deal. Four Indian tribes in Washington and Oregon secured funding commitments for wildlife projects downriver. In exchange, the tribes agreed not to oppose the feds' dam operations - or argue for dam breaching in federal court. Three of the four tribes - the Warm Springs, Yakama and Umatilla tribes - had opposed the feds in court.
The tribes get money for their wildlife projects, and the feds get some political cover. And the Bonneville Power Administration's consumers will pay some as-yet undetermined price. "Our cost structure will be higher than if we didn't have this agreement," BPA Administrator Steve Wright told the Seattle Times.
To their credit, Idaho's Nez Perce Tribe has so far refused to cut a deal with the feds. Tribal leaders recognize the obvious and share the consensus view of scientists: The lower Snake dams are the biggest impediment to Idaho salmon migrating to and from the Pacific Ocean.
Dam removal may be the only way to save Idaho's wild salmon. It should not be used as a bargaining chip to procure federal funding. Any tradeoff that takes dam breaching off the table is inherently a bad deal for Idaho - and one that serves to further divide the region's salmon interests.
But there's more. These settlements pour ratepayer money into dozens of hatchery projects. Instead of focusing attention and resources on saving wild salmon - and the hardy genetics that have made these ocean-going fish an enduring icon of the Northwest's rivers - the feds want to prop up fish numbers by producing hatchery fish that might actually weaken the salmon stock.
As we first said editorially in July 1997, the best path to salmon preservation combines dam breaching with a phaseout of hatchery operations. This week, the region has taken a step backward - or, more accurately, two steps backward.
Collaboration has been the watchword of the week. "We came to the table with the federal agencies as courtroom adversaries," Warm Springs tribal chairman Ron Suppah said Monday. "We leave that table now as partners." Normally we would favor negotiation over litigation. When the end product threatens Idaho's fish, we cannot.
As global warming bears down on our Western rivers and watersheds, it threatens one of the great symbols of Western abundance: wild salmon. With each passing year, their numbers have dropped precipitously. This decline is believed to be in part the result of warming temperatures in streams and rivers.
Just last week, government fishery managers moved toward a ban on salmon fishing off the California and Oregon coasts because of the diminishing numbers of chinook salmon.
If we hope to save the salmon, we must do two things: Stop the rise in greenhouse gases as quickly as we can and secure our waters' health against the warming that has begun and will continue. This is a river-by-river job, and each river matters. But there is one part of the job that is critical -- the piece that unites sportsmen, biologists and everyone else who cares about salmon.
The biggest, wildest, highest, coldest, healthiest and best-protected salmon habitat left south of Canada spans millions of acres and thousands of stream miles in central Idaho, eastern Oregon and southeast Washington in the headwaters of the Snake River. It is Noah's Ark for salmon -- the haven they need to reach to survive and carry on.
Scientists believe the salmon that spawn in this place likely have the best chance of any salmon populations in the Lower 48 states to adapt to, and thus survive, global warming. This habitat, nearly all above 4,000 feet in elevation, will stay cool even as temperatures rise in other areas. It will give salmon the firmest footing from which to self-adapt in the face of warming. And because the area is already protected as wilderness and public land, it is likely to face less development pressure and could offer refuge for years to come.
In the face of the great flood, Noah had to build an ark, but this one comes already made. All we need to do is help the salmon get there.
The heart of the refuge lies in the Salmon River Mountains high above the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from the coast. But the route between the ocean and the spawning ground -- the ark -- is choked by eight dams, which kill up to 90% of the area's native salmon as they journey out to sea and back again.
If salmon are to survive climate change, four of these dams on the lower Snake River must go. Once the dams are removed, the salmon would be able to reach the ark, and scientists give such a plan a 50% to 90% probability of restoring productive populations. If the dams stay, the salmon will lose their best chance to survive global warming.
It is cheaper to remove these four dams than to keep them. The modest electricity benefits they offer to local wheat farmers can and should be replaced by clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power.
This does not mean we give up on salmon in southerly or lower-elevation rivers. We should continue to do everything we can to protect their habitats from logging and development.
But realistically, low-elevation rivers will warm more, putting salmon there more at risk. Filling the high-elevation ark with salmon is our best insurance policy against what global warming could do to these valuable fish.
We have reached a tipping point. Only four sockeye salmon returned to the ark last year, and in a few years the area's chinook salmon could also reach the brink of extinction. We must act now, and if we do, the odds of success are excellent.
Get out a map of America. Find the wild stretch of Idaho, eastern Oregon and southeast Washington through which the Snake River winds, a region with very few roads or towns, nearly all of it public land. This is Noah's Ark for salmon, the place fish must reach if they are to survive climate change. But the salmon can't do it on their own. Like Noah, we must help them to safety.
• Serve growing energy demands, including new power needs for electrification of transportation
• Cope with climate-related challenges to already endangered salmon stocks
PORTLAND, Ore. — The State of Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups asked a federal judge today for help in improving river conditions for endangered Northwest salmon and ensuring the jobs of Northwest fishermen. The injunction request filed in U.S. District Court seeks specific in-river protections in 2009 for Columbia-Snake River salmon. Judge James Redden will consider the request early next year after he is expected to rule on the plaintiffs' underlying claims against the Bush administration's 2008 salmon plan.
"This is a jobs issue for the fishing industry, pure and simple. The Snake and Columbia River dams still kill millions of salmon and devastate salmon-dependent communities all up and down the coast," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the plaintiff groups. "Frankly, the Bush administration's policy has been nothing but denial and delay. With the new Obama administration and next year's Congress, we have a new opportunity to recover these once-mighty salmon runs before it is too late. Otherwise, we will see economic devastation in the Northwest like never before."
The injunction request seeks more spill over the dams and increased river flow through Columbia-Snake River reservoirs to help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. Science shows that the quicker young salmon make it through the heavily dammed river system, the higher their survival rate. But the Bush administration's salmon plan (also called a Biological Opinion, or "BiOp") released earlier this year rolls back - and even eliminates - some of the key protections ordered by the court in the past. Those court-ordered protections contributed to 2008's improved returns.
"We need the court to make sure we keep salmon on life support until we can get them to the recovery room," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "We saw improved salmon returns this year only because in 2006 fishers and conservationists fought tooth and nail in court to secure protections for these fish. But the Bush administration has already stripped away these protections, calling for lower flows and less spill. We're fighting to make sure that this year's good news will not become just a fleeting memory."
According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded, independent science and data analysis agency that monitors Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, this year's improved returns are likely the result of more water left in the river and the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when the now-returning fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon. Judge Redden court-ordered those in-river improvements after conservationists and fishermen fought to have them instituted - over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are hailing the so-called "Redden effect" as an important tool for keeping and creating sustainable jobs in the region until a scientifically-sound, legally-valid salmon plan is in place.
"It's important to understand that what is being proposed in this preliminary injunction is not a long-term solution to the economic crisis in the Northwest," cautioned Spokane contractor and steelhead fisherman Harvey Morrison. "It's a stop-gap measure that we must rely on because the Bush administration has left us no other choice We need our Northwest lawmakers to show leadership and bring people together so that we can find lasting solutions that will secure fishing jobs as well as important transportation needs for farmers in Inland Northwest."
This June, the State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups filed litigation against the Bush administration's May 2008 salmon plan for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Courts have already invalidated three prior federal plans. On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral arguments on the merits of the case. The injunction requested today is unlikely to be addressed until after the court rules on the merits. Any ruling on the proposed injunction would be made sometime after mid-February 2009.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A national coalition of commercial and sport fishermen, conservationists and clean energy and taxpayer advocates are challenging the latest Bush administration plan for continuing to operate federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers at the expense of wild salmon, calling it a slap in the face to fishermen, fishing families, and coastal communities.
“Today we are taking the only action we can against another legally inadequate plan from the Bush Administration,” said Todd True, Senior Managing Attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle, Wash. “Despite two years of work and a clear warning from the federal courts that the Administration cannot ignore the Endangered Species Act, we now have a plan that is worse than ever. Our only option is to ask the courts to intervene again, hold the government accountable, and require it to obey the law.”
In addition to filing litigation today, the groups are also calling on congressional leadership for legislative solutions to the declining salmon populations Columbia-Snake and other West Coast rivers that have contributed to unprecedented salmon declines and fishery closures on the West Coast.
“After so many failed plans, we obviously cannot rely on the Bush Administration to help restore salmon in the Pacific Northwest,” said Debbie Sease, Conservation Director for Sierra Club in Washington, DC. “Today we are urging our leaders in Congress to step up with legislation that will authorize removal of four outdated dams on the Snake River and provide real long-term solutions to the salmon declines that have left people and the environment bearing the brunt of the government’s failures.”
Among those hardest hit by the West Coast salmon crisis are fishermen, whose livelihoods and family businesses have been harmed by repeated fishery closures and cutbacks in recent years. Fishermen are also among the plaintiffs in the legal challenge being brought against the Bush Administration’s federal salmon plan.
“The Administration’s plan not only deliberately ignores science, it overlooks the tens of thousands of people on the West Coast who rely on these fish for their jobs. Without abundant, harvestable populations of salmon we can forget about long-term economic stability,” said Pietro Parravano, President of the Institute for Fisheries Resources and commercial fisherman from Half Moon Bay, Calif. "This Administration has abandoned fishermen. It’s time for Congress to step in and ensure a future for our industry and our families.”
The new litigation also coincides with the culmination of the Save Our Wild Salmon National Road Show that has traveled to 11 states and more than 30 cities to bring attention to the West Coast salmon crisis.
“What’s happening on the West Coast is a complete disaster,” said Nate Grader, Co-director of the Wild Salmon Road Show from San Francisco, Calif. “For the last two months, I’ve been traveling across this country talking to people from Nevada to New York about the salmon crisis. They are totally blown away by the economic devastation from these salmon declines, but they’re even more outraged by the failure of the federal government to take meaningful action to help communities that are hurting. Congress needs to listen to that message and show some leadership.”
The newest salmon plan from the Administration, released on May 5, is the latest in a long history of failure by federal agencies to protect and restore wild salmon throughout the West. National conservation, fishing and taxpayer advocates have criticized the plan’s lack of science-based analysis.
“The new plan doesn’t suggest even a single new action to address long-term impacts from climate change,” said John Kostyack, Executive Director of Wildlife Conservation and Global Warming for National Wildlife Federation in Washington, DC. “Science tells us that the warming waters on the West Coast are making salmon populations even more vulnerable to other threats they’re facing in the Columbia River Basin, such as the four outdated lower Snake River dams. It’s unacceptable that the Administration is ignoring the best science we have.”
Three of the last four federal plans for the Columbia and Snake River have been found inadequate and illegal in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland soundly rejected the federal government’s 2004 salmon plan and has indicated that “serious consequences” for federal agencies and hydro-system operations would follow if this newest plan did not follow the law and address the needs of salmon.
Despite this history of failure, the new salmon plan calls for cutting several key salmon protection measures and comes with a price tag of more than half a billion dollars per year. While it includes some provisions for habitat, hatchery production, and predator control, it calls for no significant changes to the region's federal hydrosystem and ignores the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to the basin’s endangered salmon.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today’s testimony from scientists, fishermen and small business owners at a hearing of the House Subcommittee for Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans paints a grim picture of how the federal government’s repeated failures to responsibly manage the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia-River Snake River Basins have paved the way for a major West Coast salmon collapse that is hitting local salmon-dependent communities and economies hard.
"What’s happening on the West Coast is a mess. Fishermen are completely devastated and so are the tens of thousands of Americans that rely on salmon for their livelihoods,” said Joel Kawahara, a Pacific salmon troller from Seattle. “The Sacramento collapse this year, the Klamath collapse two years ago, and the dwindling stocks in the Columbia-Snake all point to our desperate need for leadership. Congress must step in to ensure a future for our industry and our families.”
Up and down the Pacific Coast of the United States, from California to Alaska, salmon populations are steadily and, in many cases, steeply declining. At the same time, federal courts have found the Bush Administration’s actions to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in all three river systems. Federal mismanagement of freshwater habitat, in addition to encroaching climate change impacts, have led to an unprecedented West Coast salmon collapse and triggered fishing closures and restrictions throughout the entire Pacific Rim fishery.
“The West Coast is facing one of the largest man-made economic fishery disasters in the country as a result of the collapse of the Central Valley Chinook salmon runs,” said Dick Pool, owner of Pro-Troll Fishing Products, which is based in Concord, California. “We believe history will rank this disaster in the same category as the Exxon Valdez, the collapse of the New England Cod fishery and the collapse of the Atlantic Striped Bass fishery in the 1980s.”
For decades, the federal government has failed to come up with responsible salmon recovery plans that meaningfully address the threats to West Coast salmon. Climate change is speeding up an already problematic situation. A recent report by former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife chief Jim Martin and National Wildlife Federation global-warming expert Patty Glick noted that reconnecting salmon to the best headwaters habitat is crucial in implementing policies to address climate change. Headwater habitats will warm the least and retain the most snow — especially above 4,000 feet, and are essential requirements for salmon recovery.
“Congress needs to understand that salmon are especially vulnerable to climate change because they depend on an abundance of clear, cold water,” said Dr. Jack E. Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited. “For those populations already listed as endangered or threatened, 28 of which are on the West Coast, climate change is likely to push them further to the brink of extinction. This makes it all the more imperative for Congress to respond to the needs of these complex river systems.”
In April, a record collapse in adult Chinook salmon returning from the ocean to their spawning grounds in the Sacramento River triggered the first-ever complete coast-wide ban of commercial and sport fishing from southern California to Cape Falcon in northern Oregon.
“The Sacramento closure – like salmon declines up and down the coast – is having a devastating impact on my business and businesses throughout the region,” said Roger Thomas, president, Golden Gate Fishermen’s Association. “It’s not the ocean that is causing this devastation; it is the mismanagement of the freshwater habitat by the federal government that has led to this closure.”
Farther north, salmon in the Klamath River are barely holding on, after suffering a similar fishery collapse in 2006, and multiparty talks about removing four hydropower dams, which prevent migrating fish from reaching much of their traditional habitat, continue, but with an uncertain outcome.
In the Columbia-Snake River Basin salmon runs that once reached 16 million fish now return with less than one percent of that historic number. Thirteen distinct Columbia River salmon populations are listed under the ESA, and four of those are from the Snake River, the Columbia’s largest tributary. Dams take the biggest cut, killing more than 90 percent of ocean-going Columbia-Snake salmon. Science shows that removal of the four lower Snake River dams is essential to the recovery of Columbia-Snake Basin salmon runs, however on May 5, the Bush administration released its fifth biological opinion regarding the operations of the federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers refusing to even consider the dam removal option. Three of the last four biological opinions have been ruled illegal by federal courts, and this latest plan again ignores science and the law, despite two years of work and a clear warning from the federal courts that the government cannot ignore the ESA.
This week, Congress is voting on needed federal disaster assistance for fishing communities. Relief funding will be a crucial and welcome short-term lifeline, but fishing communities would much prefer abundant salmon runs over the long run. Going forward, congressional leadership is needed to forge long-term solutions to these problems on West Coast rivers — so communities don’t face salmon crises year in and year out.
“The 2008 total shut down of our salmon fishery is devastating to the entire West Coast fishing fleet,” Local Ocean Seafoods owner Laura Anderson said. “By pushing salmon to extinction, we are losing much more than a fish — we are losing a healthy food source, a culture and a way of life. What we really need is our congressional leaders to demand and implement a solid salmon recovery plan for all our rivers. Right now. Today. This is something that cannot wait.”