Federal salmon plan fails to follow science, law
PORTLAND, Ore. — Salmon advocates returned to federal court today to fight for the people of the Pacific Northwest.
Represented by a diverse, nationwide coalition, they are challenging a woefully inadequate 2008 federal salmon plan, which does little for the people of the Northwest and too much to protect the status quo.
On Sept. 15 the Obama administration became the most recent architect of this long-standing federal failure when it embraced a 2008 Bush administration plan to mitigate the harmful impacts of dams on endangered salmon and steelhead populations.
"We look forward to explaining to the court just how little this latest effort actually accomplishes," said Todd True, lead attorney for the fishing and conservation groups. "This is not Groundhog Day — we don’t have to keep doing the same old thing over and over and over. It's time to stop the repetition and start to do what these fish need and what the law and science requires. Our fishing communities deserve nothing less. And our Northwest way of life depends on it."
The Obama team adopted a discredited scientific analysis and legal standard despite strong objections from fisheries biologists, former Northwest governors, and people and businesses across the nation. The groups are joined in the litigation by the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho.
“It’s a sad commentary that we even have to be here today to try once again to get the government to follow the law and the science. They should do that on their own,” said Dan Parnel, owner of Leisure Sales, which represents several fishing brands in 14 Western states and the President of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “But the Judge’s decision in this case has serious economic implications for our industries’ jobs, our families and our communities. We’re hoping that Judge Redden will help this region finally produce a successful salmon plan and put us on a legal path to protecting our resources, our communities and our way of life.”
Salmon fishing still brings tens of millions of dollars into the regional economy each year and supports thousands of jobs. However, commercial fishing-dependent communities have already lost more than 25,000 salmon fishing jobs because of salmon declines in the Columbia and Snake Rivers over the past three decades. Regional sport and recreational fishing communities have lost tens of thousands more.
“This was a test for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke — on economics and science — and this plan fails on both accounts,” said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “The Obama administration should be embarrassed that it allowed regional bureaucrats, intent on protecting the status quo, to convince it to buy into this badly flawed plan. We remain convinced that the law and science are on our side and we look forward to working with the administration to get things on the right track.”
Commercial and sportfishing representatives from up and down the Pacific Coast sent a letter to Secretary Locke in September urging him to begin a dialogue on how to address the salmon crisis that has plagued coastal communities over the last eight years. Secretary Locke has not yet met with fishermen since the request was made almost three months ago.
Salmon advocates have long argued that the 2008 plan remains illegal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and largely ignores the impact federal dams have on ESA-listed threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. In fact, the plan allows a rollback of in-river salmon protections. U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has agreed with salmon advocates in challenges to two very similar prior plans.
“We scientists believed the President when he said he would protect science and strengthen the ESA, but Secretary Locke and Dr. Lubchenco have seemingly allowed political pressure to circumvent a decision based on sound science,” said Bill Shake, retired Assistant Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Tell a salmon biologist that you don’t want to remove the four lower Snake River dams or that you don’t want to spill water over the dams, but don’t tell them those actions aren’t necessary for these imperiled fish. We know better; we know what the science says. We come to Court with hope for more because the fish need more than this plan, and fishing families and communities deserve more.”
The Obama administration’s September 15 plan adopted the old Bush salmon plan with minor tweaks. The administration’s plan does allow for a multi-year study — at some uncertain point in the future — of what is already known to be a viable salmon restoration option — lower Snake River dam removal — and then only if already-depressed endangered salmon numbers plunge even further. Other than this, and some re-arranged monitoring and habitat measures that have been on the table for more than a year, the Obama plan is unchanged from the 2008 plan that has been challenged in court by fishing and conservation interests.
Opponents of following the science have criticized the idea of removing dams, especially in light of climate change concerns. Salmon advocates, however, point to a recent expert analysis from the NW Energy Coalition and an analysis from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council to show that protecting salmon and providing for a clean energy future is both eminently doable and affordable.
“We truly can have both clean, affordable energy and healthy salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest,” said NW Energy Coalition Executive Director Sara Patton. “It’s not an either/or question — the Northwest needs and deserves both, and both are 100 percent possible with the right vision, planning and leadership. We have the technology; now let’s find the political will to make it happen. The Northwest can show the rest of the country how to do this right while creating jobs and providing for a better future.”