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.

No comments: