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Restoring the Lower Snake River

From the desk of Joseph Bogaard

January 22, 2014

Federal agencies in the Northwest released their (not so) new Federal Plan for Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead on Jan. 17. Four of the last five plans – dating back to the 1990s and including the last three in a row – have been rejected by the courts as inadequate and illegal. This latest plan, by the feds’ own admission, is barely distinguishable from the illegal 2008/2010 Plan it is meant to replace.

Needless to say, salmon and fishing advocates are very disappointed by the federal government’s latest effort. With this email, we want to deliver to you some highlights (lowlights?) from the feds’ plan and approach,  serve up a mash-up of excerpts to give you a flavor of the media coverage, and provide a few links to some of the recent news stories.
We’ll be in touch in the coming weeks with further details about the plan,  updates about the feds’ apparent decision to go back to court for yet another round of litigation (the plaintiffs – salmon and fishing advocates, the State of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe – are studying the plan now, but no decisions have yet been made about future litigation), and how you can help.

Stay tuned and, as always, thanks very much for your support.

Joseph and the SOS Crew

1. A quick guide to the 2014 Columbia-Snake Salmon Plan’s shortcomings:

A.     It reduces spill, instead of expanding it as the region’s top salmon scientists suggest.
B.     It fails to include a single new or additional measure to address the mounting impacts of climate change.
C.     It’s a status quo plan that threatens to send the region right back into court - and as such, it’s a real buzz kill for collaboration.
D.     It moves the goal posts: Five years ago federal agencies declared “productivity” the gold standard for measuring success, but then salmon productivity tanked. Now they tout short-term 
“abundance” instead. Good grief.
E.     It leaves endangered wild salmon and steelhead bumping along the bottom – and at persistent, prolonged risk of extinction.
F.     Its habitat restoration projects and projected benefits are based on hope, not science. Absolutely, habitat restoration is a good thing, but can it compensate for the heavy toll caused by the dams? The math just doesn’t pencil out.
G.     The 2014 Plan pretty much ignores the judge’s 2011 ruling when he declared the last plan illegal and asked for an analysis of lower Snake River dam removal, along with consideration of more aggressive measures like additional river spills and higher flows.

2. Media Mash-up on the 2014 Columbia-Snake Salmon Plan

“New Columbia River plan for protecting salmon and steelhead is little changed.”
“The federal government's management plan for protecting salmon and steelhead populations imperiled by federal dams in the Columbia River basin differs little from its earlier version and continues to rely heavily on habitat improvement.”
“Even as officials have spent millions on habitat restoration and are touting its benefits in this latest plan, they acknowledge that fish populations are barely hanging on and nowhere close to being recovered.”
“Yet officials acknowledge that productivity — the number of the next generation of adults produced by returning spawning fish — was lower.”
“’Only a tiny percent of adult fish are returning to the rivers,’ Todd True of Earthjustice said, ‘and a large percentage of those are hatchery fish.’ On some runs, he said, up to 80 percent of returnees are hatchery fish. ‘That doesn't sound to me like habitat is beginning to work,’ he said.”

“Critics also decried the plan for reducing spill on several dams and for not including separate measures to address the effects of climate change.”

“The agency has issued four such biological opinions, commonly called biops, in the past two decades. But each one was struck down by Judge James Redden, who deemed them to be insufficient. That last happened in 2011, when the judge said the agency depended on benefits from habitat improvement projects that were too ill-defined to pass muster with ESA. Redden also said the agency should at least consider dam breaching and increasing spill at the dams.”

“But the strategy included in the new biop is virtually identical to that of its previous versions. It does not analyze breaching, and while it discusses a proposal to dramatically increase spill at the dams, it instead adopts policies that would curtail spill in late summer.”

“The Nez Perce Tribe, one of the plaintiffs in previous court challenges, called the document disappointing. ‘It's immediately clear that the biop's foundation is fatally flawed,’ said Silas Whitman, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe's governing body.”

“Barry Thom, deputy regional director for NOAA Fisheries, also said a review of the listed runs showed they are meeting goals outlined in previous biological opinions and in many cases exceeding abundance targets. But he said returning adults have not been as productive as expected. When pressed, Thom acknowledged there are vast amounts of pristine yet under-utilized habitat in the roadless and wilderness areas of central Idaho and said none of the protected runs is close to meeting recovery goals.”

3. Links to media coverage:

Lewiston Tribune: Latest NOAA opinion on salmon goes back to well

SOS Press Release: Federal agencies squander chance for progress on Northwest salmon

AP: New Columbia River plan for protecting salmon and steelhead is little changed

Idaho Statesman: Salmon, dams will head back to court

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