Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rep. DeFazio's Disappointing Op-Ed

Whether it's working to ensure that West Coast fishing communities receive much-needed disaster relief or introducing legislation to protect important Oregon treasures like the Copper Salmon Wilderness, Congressman Peter DeFazio has been a strong leader on environmental and economic issues in the Northwest. Congressman DeFazio's commitment to Oregon's 4th District cannot be understated.

In light of this leadership, the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition has been disappointed by Congressman DeFazio's position on Columbia and Snake River salmon recovery and we thought it made sense to let people in Oregons 4th Congressional District know a little bit more about it.

As you may recall, the 2008 federal salmon plan, crafted by the Bush Administration, is currently being challenged in federal court by a coalition of conservationists, fishermen, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Spokane Indian Tribe. On Friday, March 6th, the day of an important court hearing in the case, Congressman DeFazio teamed up with Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) on an op-ed printed in the Oregonian. The op-ed touts the federal government's plan as a "collaborative process [that] has worked, and the long-term benefits to our region are clear: water for fish, renewable hydropower for our economy, and long-term certainty for numerous stakeholders." The op-ed also refers to the goal of healthy fish runs as having already been achieved, a statement with which most scientists and fishermen would disagree. Read the op-ed.
While the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition would like to share Congressman DeFazio's enthusiasm for the federal government's salmon plan, the fact is, we can't. That's because the 2008 federal salmon plan constitutes a significant step backwards for Columbia-Snake Basin salmon and steelhead recovery.

Here are a few of the plan's substantial flaws:

- The plan re-interprets an important part of the Endangered Species Act known as the jeopardy standard - the way federal agencies determine if an action is seriously harming or "jeopardizing" a protected species. In the case of the 2008 salmon plan, the Bush Administration re-wrote this standard in a way that significantly lowers the bar for what recovery means to a species. In fact, the new standard says salmon are okay – or "trending toward recovery" - as long as we get just ONE more salmon back per year in any given population. Just one a year!

Consequently, it's entirely possible that under the 2008 plan, some salmon runs would never recover. If upheld, this new interpretation of the jeopardy standard could have grave repercussions for threatened and endangered species across the nation.

- The 2008 salmon plan diligently avoids requiring any meaningful changes to the operation of the federal hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, despite the fact that these dams are the single largest source of mortality for ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. In fact, as many of 90% of some Snake River salmon are killed by the dams and their impacts before the young fish migrating downstream reach the ocean.

- The 2008 plan rolls back current salmon protections put in place by court order. For example, the 2008 plan limits measures like increased flow and spill - water that is spilled over the dams to help young salmon migrate more safely to the ocean - which are known to increase salmon survival, and which allow fish to remain in the river rather than being trucked or barged downstream. Rolling back these protections runs counter to the best science and could erode the small gains in salmon survival realized over the past few years.

- The 2008 plan downplays the role of climate change and the likelihood that regional warming trends will make salmon recovery even tougher than it is today. By assuming that global warming will get no worse than it has over the past two decades, the federal salmon plan leaves us woefully unprepared for the predicted changes that are likely to result in warmer, drier, and deadlier conditions for the Northwest's imperiled coldwater fish.

These are just some of the reasons that conservationists, fishing businesses and fishermen, and several Northwest Indian tribes oppose the Bush Administration's federal salmon plan. And they're some of the reasons we're so disappointed that
Congressman DeFazio has chosen to support it. By backing this plan, Congressman DeFazio has endorsed a document that the conservation and fishing communities believe violates the Endangered Species Act in very fundamental ways – something which runs counter to the congressman's longtime defense of the ESA.

Fortunately, other leaders in Oregon continue to play very positive roles in the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Former Governor John Kitzhaber remains a strong supporter of solutions in the Columbia Basin that can provide for real recovery of wild salmon. Oregon's current Governor, Ted Kulongoski, and the State of Oregon have held the federal government accountable for their mismanagement of the Columbia and Snake River hydrosystem, and continue to advocate for meaningful changes that would help restore salmon.

For years, Congressman Earl Blumenauer has worked in Congress to find solutions for Columbia-Snake Basin salmon. And Senator Jeff Merkley supports a regional stakeholders table for discussing a long-term solution to the Columbia-Snake River salmon crisis.

In the Northwest, we shouldn't have to choose between real recovery of Columbia and Snake River salmon, a clean and affordable energy future, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. With vision, dedication, and smart planning, we can achieve each of these goals. Congressman DeFazio can join his fellow Oregon leaders by supporting objective, rigorous consideration of science-based solutions for our region.

Together we can bring abundant wild salmon and steelhead back to the Columbia and Snake Rivers in a way that gives salmon-dependent communities the lasting relief they truly deserve - self-sustaining, fishable salmon runs - while creating
jobs, addressing climate change, ending wasteful spending, and building a clean energy future for generations to come.


Give his office a phone call: (202) 225-6416

Urge him to support a stakeholder negotiation process that includes full consideration of all scientifically credible options for recovering Columbia and Snake River wild salmon and steelhead to healthy, abundant levels.

Points to make when you call:
- Oregonians, the Northwest, and the nation deserve real solutions for Columbia Basin salmon recovery - starting with a legal and scientifically credible plan that works for salmon, Northwest ratepayers, regional communities, and American taxpayers.

- If upheld, the 2008 federal salmon plan would significantly lower the bar for determining if and when species are being seriously harmed, making real recovery even more elusive. This is bad news for imperiled plants and animals everywhere, and for the Endangered Species Act itself, a law that Congressman DeFazio has long defended. Given his past support of a strong ESA, his voice as an ally for these salmon and the communities they support is sorely needed.

- Oregonians deserve a chance to restore and reclaim their stake in returning salmon and steelhead to Oregon's rivers. Partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams will provide salmon with renewed access to key habitat strongholds in northeast Oregon and bring a needed economic boost to rural communities.

- The federal government's track record on salmon in the Columbia Basin has been a very expensive failure - more than $10 billion in taxpayer and Northwest ratepayer dollars spent since the 1980's. By investing in a science-based plan to restore salmon and steelhead, we can end years of taxpayer waste in a manner that provides more economic opportunities for the Northwest.

- Hundreds of scientists across the country, including some of NOAA Fisheries' own biologists, cite the removal of the four lower Snake River dams as the action most certain to recover wild salmon and steelhead. This option must be included in any
credible federal plan.

- A plan to restore the Snake River must also include improvements to rail and highway infrastructure to provide farmers and other industries with more diverse and flexible transportation opportunities. In addition, dam removal can provide thousands of short- and long-term jobs in industries like construction and building trades, clean energy, recreational and commercial fishing, and the myriad livelihoods that depend on the salmon economy.

- The Northwest doesn't have to choose between recovering salmon by removing outdated dams like those on the lower Snake River, maintaining clean, affordable energy, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. A recent study, called Bright Future, shows that with the right leadership, we can craft a plan that recovers salmon, creates jobs, ends wasteful spending, and helps build a clean energy future for generations to come.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BRIGHT FUTURE: How to keep the Northwest's lights on, jobs growing, goods moving and salmon swimming in the era of climate change.

Today, the NW Energy Coalition released an exciting new report showing that the four-state region has ample, affordable energy conservation and renewable energy resources to serve future power needs and fulfill our climate responsibilities, reviving our economy and creating thousands of good local jobs along the way.

The Northwest is justly proud of its clean-energy tradition and innovation. But we can do better, and the accelerating climate crisis tells us we must. We can power our region without burning coal, we can save endangered salmon and we can reinvigorate our economy by building a true clean-energy future.

A new report from the NW Energy Coalition, Bright Future, shows it can be done. The paper explains how, with federal and regional leadership, the Northwest electric power system can:
• Meet future energy demands
• Restore wild salmon to our rivers and ocean
• Help the transportation sector slash its global-warming emissions
• Reduce its own carbon emissions at least 15% by 2020 and 80% or more by 2050
• Create thousands of family-wage jobs and build local and regional economies

Bright Future finds that this challenge really is an opportunity to produce new, sustainable jobs,
decrease pollution, boost local economies and protect Columbia and Snake river salmon. And it finds virtually no difference — about two-thirds of a cent per kilowatt-hour — in the cost of energy to consumers of taking the clean-energy path, a tiny price to pay for enormous economic and natural-world benefits.

Click here to download the full report or a four-page summary.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

THE DAILY ASTORIAN: Obama should name a King Fish

Good ideas have a way of eventually prevailing over short-term politics. Such deserves to be the case for a proposal to unite Pacific salmon recovery under the oversight of a new federal salmon director.

Although this person probably will inevitably be dubbed the salmon czar, calling him or her "King Fish" offers better opportunities for amusement.

As reported last week in the Los Angeles Times, more than 75 fishing organizations from six Pacific states — Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Nevada and Alaska - sent President Barack Obama a letter asking for the new post. Severe problems with Sacramento River salmon runs sharply limited West Coast's commercial salmon fishing the past two seasons.

The letter urges White House involvement as a way to "protect and restore dwindling populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead and the tens of thousands of jobs in our states that depend upon them."

For anyone who follows the tortuous migration of salmon policy over the years, the current proposal bears similarities to the plan for a single multi-state coordinating entity for Pacific Northwest efforts. This plan fell apart in 2000 when Washington's then-Gov. Gary Locke opted out.

The new idea is less appealing, in that it wouldn't be based here in the region and currently doesn't seem to explicitly encompass key parts of the discussion like hydropower production and tribal treaty obligations. But even so, it would be better to have one Washington, D.C. office with real power to deal with salmon issues, instead of the highly dispersed and dysfunctional mish-mash that now governs.

As we editorialized nine years ago, striving for centralized control of salmon recovery, dams, electricity generation and habitat restoration is a gamble. It will require congressional cooperation and political backbone to overcome institutional inertia and special interests. It could impact power rates, fishing seasons and all sorts of other factors.

A single coordinating entity with real power wouldn't do away with these turf battles and bureaucracy, but could go far toward introducing accountability into a West Coast issue that is thoroughly Balkanized — split among a dozen federal agencies, six states, numerous tribes, water users and almost countless landowners.

Making a genuine effort to address the seemingly intractable issues surrounding salmon recovery would go a long way toward building President's Obama's credibility and legacy here in the far West. Naming a King Fish is a decent place to start.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Legal Update: Salmon and Northwest communities in court

PORTLAND, Ore. — Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden affirmed his commitment to follow the rule of law in his decision on the adequacy of the 2008 federal salmon plan produced in the final months of the Bush Administration. The ruling will affect, among other things, dam operations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. While the judge did not specify a date, his ruling is expected as early as April.

Regardless of the specific outcome, this critical court decision is sure to change the dynamic of one of the most important endangered species challenges of our time. The fate of Columbia Basin salmon, Northwest communities, and crucial US taxpayer dollars hang in the balance. Now, more than ever, Northwest and national leaders must take the opportunity to help craft solutions that can end the salmon crisis in a way that promotes and addresses the key priorities our nation is facing: creating jobs, fighting climate change, ending taxpayer waste, and building a clean energy future.

President Obama has vowed to restore scientific integrity to our decision-making. With his leadership we now have an opportunity to solve this longstanding issue. Please call on President Obama and tell him he has folks across the country that want him to give us a Columbia-Snake River that works for people and salmon! .

Here in Oregon, Senator Jeff Merkley was elected to represent Oregon on a platform that included a commitment to leadership on natural resource issues in the Northwest. He has also addressed a signature Northwest issue - the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake Rivers - agreeing that all options, including the removal the four lower Snake River dams, must be on the table. While we wait for Judge Redden's ruling, Senator Merkley needs to hear from you:

Please join with others throughout Oregon by taking a moment to call
Senator Jeff Merkley's office today - 202.224.3753

You can also send him a letter via email.

Key points when you call his office:
- Welcome him to the Senate and thank him for his commitment to leadership on Northwest salmon recovery.
- Urge him to champion legislation in the United States Senate to restore healthy, abundant populations of salmon and steelhead by removing the four costly dams on the lower Snake River and replacing their river transportation and energy production with modern, efficient and salmon-friendly alternatives.
- Removing these dams will save taxpayer dollars, create family-wage jobs and ensure a clean energy future, as it restores access for salmon and steelhead to the wildest, largest, and best-protected salmon habitat in the continental United States.

For more context on the unfolding case in court, please read the recent blog (posted below) from the Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker or visit:

Thank you for all of your help!


In salmon and dams saga, the hard part begins
by Rocky Barker

March 9th, 2009

Neither side in the salmon-dam lawsuit could walk away Friday confident that they were going to eventually get their way from U.S. District Judge James Redden Friday in Portland.

Redden told federal, tribal and environmental lawyers that it's a close call whether the latest federal biological opinion on Columbia and Snake River dams meets the Endangered Species Act. And he said at the end of the day if he makes a final ruling he will make it on the law.

Lawyers for environmentalists, salmon fishermen and salmon businesses, along with lawyers for the Nez Perce Tribe and the Spokane tribe made a strong case that the federal government was not using the best available science to determine how endangered all 13 stocks of salmon and steelhead in the region are. But the federal government had most of the region's tribes on its side of the court in a powerful coalition that make its case it will do what it says it will.

The key issue is whether the dams jeopardize the existence of the fish with the plan in place that feds, Idaho, Montana, Washington and most of the region's tribes support. The judge clearly would like the two sides to cut a deal. But that isn't going to be easy.

If the issue was getting to a plan that meets the Endangered Species Act that would be tough enough. But what salmon advocates want is a plan that will not only keep salmon from going extinct but also will unlock the production potential of the Snake River.

Only Idaho and eastern Oregon have the quality habitat to produce large harvestable runs into the future without hatcheries. That's as much of the logic of removing the four lower Snake dams on the Snake in Washington as keeping the fish from going extinct. The long term future of all five of the Snake salmon and steelhead that are endangered may depend on the dams but in the short term it may be possible to keep them from winking out.

Other issues remain important. The future wild B run steelhead, the big ones that live mostly in the Clearwater, may be more threatened right now by incidental harvest by tribal commercial fishermen. Other dams like the Hells Canyon complex are issues.

Hatcheries have been the major bane of the Upper Columbia steelhead. These fish have all but lost the resilience to survive in the wild because of spending too many generations in hatcheries.

What role will hatcheries play in the long run? Then there is the biggest issue: climate change.

Ultimately the Pacific Northwest is going to have to decide what it wants and get Congress and a president to sign off. Redden has set the table for these regional discussions to begin.

The ball is now in the court of the Obama administration, which appeared all but absent from the hearing Friday. The same government lawyers argued the federal side. The National Marine Fisheries Service still doesn't have its new director, Jane Lubchenco, in place let along a regional director.

But the ball also is in the court of the Congress and the region. What will be the forum for the long term talks that will be necessary to resolve this issue? How will the interests of the many local communities affected be protected?

We are on the verge of a new era in the salmon and dam saga. The first thing we need is leadership.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hail to the salmon chief?

LA Times: Hail to the salmon chief?

Could there be a new big fish coming to the pond that is our nation’s capitol?

Commercial and recreational fishermen are urging President Obama to create a new position in his administration: salmon director.

But don’t be fooled by the title. The job interview won’t include a thorough vetting on sauté skills and work with a barbecue or broiler. The salmon director would develop and coordinate restoration policy in states where the tasty and environmentally troubled fish swims.

More than 75 fishing organizations from six Pacific states -– California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Alaska –- signed a letter sent Monday to Obama asking for the new post. Dwindling numbers of the fish have virtually shut down the West Coast's commercial salmon fishing industry over the past two seasons.

The letter urges the Obama administration to begin work immediately in creating the position to “protect and restore dwindling populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead and the tens of thousands of jobs in our states that depend upon them.”

Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Assns. said creation of the position right inside the walls of the White House would “send a strong signal” to hard-hit fishing communities that the president “is committed to correcting past failure” and putting salmon on the road to recovery.

No word from Obama on the prospects for the new post.

-- Eric Bailey

Photo: A fisherman with catch. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tell the Oregonian we need real solutions for wild salmon!

This morning, just hours before U.S. District Court Judge James Redden held a hearing on the legality of the federal government's (a rollover from the Bush administration) federal salmon plan for the Columbia & Snake Rivers, the Oregonian published an editorial touting the historic collaboration occurring in the Northwest on salmon recovery.

Please read the editorial and send a letter to the editor:

Judge Redden is expected to rule a month from now. The Bush administration's plan before the Judge is remarkably similar to previous plans that have been ruled illegal in court. While the Oregonian paints a very rosy picture of the federal government's efforts, their conclusion is premature and says nothing about the other stakeholders, including commercial and sport fishermen, who were not invited to the collaboration table. This plan would take us several steps backward.

The Oregonian states that "the real and lasting legacy will be all those former adversaries in the long Northwest fish wars who have finally come together to save Columbia salmon." Members of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition couldn't agree more. The Northwest wants to look to a future that gives us restored salmon populations but we have yet to create the kind of broad dialogue that will get us there. To bank on an illegal and scientifically bankrupt plan held over from the Bush Administration's reckless salmon policy is misguided.

While the upcoming court decision will likely guide the fate of these fish and the communities they serve, the Northwest desperately needs it's political leaders to craft a table of stakeholders representing all parties that have a real stake in the future of these salmon and the salmon economy. It's time to make real changes that invest taxpayer dollars wisely, lead to the restoration of healthy, abundant salmon populations in the Columbia-Snake Basin, builds an energy infrastructure that is truly clean, and restores a Snake River that works for everyone.

Please take a moment and write a letter to the editor today.

The Oregonian:

Note: The Oregonian only accepts letters that are 150 words or less.
Another way to let your voice be heard is to submit a comment online below the editorial:

Some tips on writing a letter to the editor:

Please remind the Oregonian:

- Many stakeholders advocating for change remain shut out of the process of building a plan that works - the deck has been stacked and a dialogue about what must be done to recover Columbia & Snake River salmon has been stunted. Thousands of good jobs in communities across the Northwest are dependent on Columbia & Snake River salmon. These stakeholders must have a voice. More on this subject:

- In addition, residents of communities that have historically be against any change on the Snake River have become very concerned about the growing flood risk and growing costs of keeping the four lower Snake River dams. More on this subject:

- Much of the science has been shut out as well. For years, hundreds of federal, state, tribal and independent scientists have concluded that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the best and perhaps only means to protect these fish from extinction and recover healthy populations. If we serious about looking at all available options for recovering these fish, why isn't this option considered in the Bush Administration?s plan? More on this subject:

- Over $8 billion dollars has been spent on salmon recovery measures that haven't led to recovery. Runs of wild salmon in the Columbia & Snake Rivers teeter near the levels at which many were listed under the Endangered Species Act. It's time to invest our federal dollars in a plan that actually addresses the key problems with salmon declines in a way that can revitalize local communities and promotes key priorities by creating jobs and building clean energy.

-Tens of thousands of families, businesses, and organizations from across the country support real and lasting solutions to the salmon crisis that include the removal of the four lower Snake River dams and in creates family-wage jobs, invests in our fishing and farming communities, and encourages the development of truly clean energy resources.

Please contact if you have any questions or need help writing a letter.