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Save Our Wild Salmon

Op-Ed co-written by Rod Sando, Doug DeHart,
Dan Diggs, Jim Martin, Bill Shake, and Don Swartz
*Read the science review from AFS mentioned in this op-ed.

No greater challenge faces managers of Pacific Northwest resources than restoration of salmon in the Columbia River.

We initially welcomed the Obama administration's request to federal Judge James Redden to delay his ruling and review the previous administration's salmon policies; a testament to President Obama's commitment -- given in speeches before hundreds of scientists across this nation -- to restore science to "its rightful place" in public policy decision making.

However, as retired career professionals with nearly 230 combined years of experience, we are saddened the commitment remains unfulfilled. That broken promise is no more evident than in the federal government's response to protecting the icon of the Northwest, the salmon and steelhead of the Columbia-Snake River Basin.

Clearly, other scientists concur. The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society, professionals who don't represent any special interest or organization, recently issued its own scientific peer review, criticizing the Obama administration's proposed changes to the previous administration's salmon policies.

The society stated that the administration has "not used the best scientific information" and found the plan "to be inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin."

The federal agencies have again chosen to protect the status quo over protecting salmon and steelhead by eliminating spill during key migration times. The science clearly demonstrates that spilling water over the dams increases the survival of young salmon migrating to the sea. The increased adult salmon returns over the past several years support the science. Since 2006, Redden has forced the federal government to provide this critical salmon protection, and the fish have responded even better then we predicted.
The year 2010, like 2007, will see limited snowpack and lower flows for the salmon journey. But, in 2007, Redden ordered federal agencies to spill water over the dams to aid salmon. This strategy eased survival risks and contributed to increased returns of threatened sockeye, steelhead and chinook.

Court-ordered spill has instituted a share-the-risk approach to salmon management that has proved its value for several years. Continuing spill, even in low-flow years, is an investment in the future.

Anything less is regression to failed past policies. The federal proposal to eliminate this key salmon protection when so many listed fish are in the river does not pass a scientific red-face test.

The job of the federal agencies is to protect and restore salmon and steelhead to the Columbia-Snake River Basin. This job requires the federal government to put less effort into protecting the status quo and more into protecting the listed salmon and steelhead.

Rod Sando is retired director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Co-authors were: Doug DeHart, retired chief of fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Dan Diggs, retired assistant regional fisheries director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Jim Martin, retired chief of fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Bill Shake, retired assistant regional fisheries director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Don Swartz, retired fisheries manager, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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