Saturday, April 11, 2009

NEW YORK TIMES: Dr. Lubchenco and the salmon

April 10, 2009

A note from SOS:
The following New York Times’ editorial deals with two separate salmon issues, only one of which the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition works on. Our coalition takes no position on the “catch share” system mentioned at the editorial’s end; various members of our broad coalition have differing views of that system, and in all such cases SOS takes no position so that we can with united strength work for what our members agree upon. Our members agree on the editorial’s first issue. Dams are by far the largest source of human-caused salmon mortality in the Columbia and Snake rivers; the best science shows that removing the lower Snake River dams is key to wild salmon and steelhead recovery in the basin; and the Obama Administration has the opportunity to bring law, science and the public good together in a salmon plan that works for all the people of the Northwest and nation.

Jane Lubchenco, the new leader of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will have more to say than anyone else in Washington about the health of fish species in America's coastal waters. A career marine ecologist, she is widely regarded as tough, smart, respectful of science and deeply committed to the survival and growth of America's fisheries.

She will need all of those qualities and more when she confronts what could be her first major test - possibly the most vexing of her tenure - devising a workable and broadly acceptable solution to the grave threats facing the salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest.

In a matter of weeks, a federal judge in Seattle will rule on the adequacy of the Bush administration's last recovery plan for a dozen or so endangered or threatened salmon runs in the Columbia-Snake River Basin.

Judge James Redden has already rejected two earlier plans. He tossed out a Clinton plan because he found its prescriptions too vague and predictions about the recovery rate for salmon species too speculative. He then tossed out a Bush plan because it did too little to increase water flows over the dams to help move young salmon downstream to the ocean. It was also illegal: The Endangered Species Act requires the recovery of a species, whereas the Bush plan promised little more than allowing the fish to go extinct at a slower rate.

This latest plan is an improvement, but it asks only that the fish be "trending toward recovery" - which could mean almost anything, and certainly does not point toward full recovery. It is opposed by environmental groups and the state of Oregon, from which Dr. Lubcheco hails. It also is unlikely to pass muster with the judge. That would set the stage for intervention by the Obama administration and, one hopes, a much better recovery plan. As part of that plan, we urge the administration to consider removing the four dams on the Lower Snake River, which many scientists see as critical to the species' recovery. The Clinton plan held open that possibility; the Bush plan did not.

Encouragingly, Dr. Lubchenco has already shown a capacity to confront tough problems. Last week, she asked the hidebound and suspicious fishermen of New England to entertain a radical shift in the way they manage their fisheries. Instead of the current race to catch the last fish, Dr. Lubchenco is calling on them instead to submit to an ownership system known as "catch shares" under which they would be given a fixed share of the fishery and, with it, a strong financial interest in having the fishery survive and grow.

The idea has worked well in several countries, like Australia. It also captured the attention of Congress and the Bush administration. Getting New England's traditionalists to accept a new idea will not be easy, but it is necessary. New England's fisheries suffer from overfishing, the Pacific Northwest's from habitat loss. What both places suffer from is a failure to act.

Please urge the Obama administration to follow the science and lead Columbia-Snake River salmon to recovery!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

We need Obama to bring change to the Columbia-Snake!

The salmon collapse on the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers have again rocked coastal fishing communities. The Columbia-Snake has been there before and the Sacramento just 5 years ago was the crutch holding up Pacific salmon fishing communities. While Columbia-Snake river salmon populations have slightly improved this year, we are nowhere near recovery. In fact, the only reason we have a season at all is because fishing and conservation groups fought to have in-river protections in place for juvenile salmon in 2005 and 2006.

The Pacific salmon community is united in this effort because in the end, the long-term abundance of these fish depends on the recovery of all three of the Lower 48's signature salmon rivers.

Right now, the Columbia-Snake is hanging in there, but as I write this blog post, NMFS's Biological Opinion sits in front of U.S. District Court Judge Redden in Portland. Judge Redden has thrown out two prior plans. This BiOp is largely the same as past, failed plans and rolls back all of the protections that are in place and we risk losing the small amount of progress we have made.

What is happening on the Sacramento-San Joaquin is because of an incredible lack of foresight. We have the opportunity now to take this lesson and move toward a solid recovery plan for all three major salmon rivers. The Sacramento-San Joaquin and the Lower Snake River rounded out the top three or America's Most Endangered Rivers just days ago. While this crisis is unfortunately nothing new, we do have a brand new opportunity with the Obama administration.

We have a momentous opportunity, but the window is rapidly closing and we need to act now. Please click here to call on President Obama to step in and lead!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Lower Snake River named America’s 3rd Most Endangered River


Washington D.C. —
Four dams on the lower Snake River are driving salmon to the brink of extinction while preventing the Northwest from embracing 21st century energy and transportation opportunities. This threat landed the lower Snake in the number three spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers: 2009 edition.

American Rivers and its partners called on the Obama administration and the Northwest congressional delegation to convene negotiations to forge a river restoration plan that will work for communities and salmon in light of the threats posed by the dams and global warming. Removing the four dams and restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River will not only revive salmon runs and a multi-million dollar fishery, it will eliminate a growing flood threat in Lewiston, Idaho and create an opportunity to modernize the region’s transportation and energy systems.

“The fate of the lower Snake River and its communities hangs in the balance,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “There is a tremendous opportunity for the Obama administration and Northwest congressional leaders to lead the charge on a river restoration plan that works for salmon, communities and the region’s economy.”

For years, the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition has been working with commercial and sport fishing groups, clean energy and taxpayer advocates, businesses and conservationists to create an effective solution to the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis that will work for the entire region.

“Taking out the four lower Snake River dams and giving an endangered river a much-needed chance to recover is smart business” said Paul Fish, CEO of Mountain Gear, an outdoor retail company based in Spokane, Wash. “A restored Snake River would mean abundant salmon, more outdoor recreation and fishing opportunities, and more jobs for the Northwest. Let’s restore this river so it works for people and for salmon and transform an endangered Snake River into a working Snake River.”

The four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams and 140 miles of slackwater reservoirs block salmon and steelhead from reaching the largest and best protected high-elevation spawning and rearing habitat left in the Lower 48. Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams create a hostile gauntlet of deadly turbines and warm, stagnant reservoirs full of hungry predators that have caused dramatic declines in the Snake River’s salmon runs.

Every year, those dams kill as many as 90 percent of juvenile salmon and steelhead that migrate downstream to the ocean. Today, all of the river’s salmon runs are either threatened with extinction or already extinct.

“Global warming is already affecting runoff patterns in the Columbia Basin,” said Patty Glick, Senior Global Warming Specialist, National Wildlife Federation. “If the four lower Snake River dams remain in place, higher water temperatures and lower flows will push the region’s remaining salmon and steelhead runs closer to extinction.”

American Rivers and its partners are calling for the four dams to be removed in order to restore a healthy, free-flowing lower Snake River. Scientists estimate that the Snake River Basin above the four dams possesses roughly 70 percent of the salmon and steelhead restoration potential in the entire Columbia basin. This includes extensive high-elevation salmon spawning and rearing habitat in central Idaho, northeast Oregon, and southeast Washington that is likely to remain productive even in the face of a changing climate.

Restoring the lower Snake River and its salmon and steelhead would boost the regional economy by hundreds of millions thanks to the income it would generate for commercial fishing up and down the Pacific Coast, increased recreational fishing from Astoria, Oregon to Stanley, Idaho, and new boating, camping, hiking, and hunting opportunities along the scenic lower Snake River. If the four lower Snake River dams are removed to restore a free-flowing river, it would be the largest river restoration project ever undertaken.

Dam removal would also eliminate a growing flood risk in the town of Lewiston, Idaho. Sediment is accumulating behind Lower Granite Dam, the uppermost dam on the lower Snake River, which has raised the river level and reduced the margin of safety provided by Lewiston’s levees. There is too much sediment behind the dam to remove in a cost-effective and environmentally protective manner. Ultimately, taxpayers must either pay up to $87 million to raise Lewiston’s levees — and raise the roads and highways built just over the levees — or remove the dam that has created the flood risk.

The benefits the dams now provide can be replaced by other means, such as energy conservation and increased wind power capacity, while still allowing the Northwest to have affordable, carbon-free energy. As explained in a March 2009 Northwest Energy Coalition report, Bright Future: How to keep the Northwest's lights on, jobs growing, goods moving and salmon swimming in the era of climate change, the region has sufficient renewable energy and energy efficiency potential to cost-effectively replace the four dams’ energy at the same time as it meets the much larger challenge of reducing regional global warming emissions.

The freight transportation benefits of the dams are also replaceable. Because a significant proportion of Northwest wheat farmers rely on Snake River barges to get their grain to market, dam removal will necessitate targeted upgrades to southeastern Washington’s rail, highway and Columbia River barge systems.

After decades of court battle, the need for multi-stakeholder negotiations on a river and salmon restoration plan is crucial. This spring, federal district court Judge James A. Redden will rule on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service’s 2008 biological opinion for Columbia and Snake River salmon. That plan, developed under the Bush administration, continued the federal government’s long-running attempt to fashion a salmon protection plan around status quo river and dam operations rather than adjusting operations to meet the needs of imperiled salmon.

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Each year, American Rivers solicits nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, local governments, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most uncertain futures rather than those suffering from the worst chronic problems. The report presents alternatives to proposals that would damage rivers, identifies those who make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.

To take action, please visit:

To read the report online, please visit: