Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fishermen, salmon advocates hold rally in Portland

Obama administration officials begin Northwest listening session on Columbia-Snake salmon policy

PORTLAND, Ore. — High-level Obama administration officials, including NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, today kicked off an in-region “listening session” as part of the administration’s 30-60 day review of Columbia and Snake River salmon policy.

Officials will be meeting today with representatives from Northwest states and Tribes at the Lloyd Center Doubletree Hotel in Portland. Fishermen and salmon advocates, who did not receive a requested meeting with administration officials, will hold a rally outside the hotel with fishing boats, kayaks and drift boats to thank the Obama administration for this week’s listening session and stake their economic claim in the Columbia-Snake salmon plan debate.

“The fact that we’re having to haul our fishing boats here today illustrates the basic problem: more and more boats are having to stay docked because we have lost so many family-wage fishing jobs,” said Steve Fick, a commercial fisherman from Astoria and president of Fishhawk Fisheries. “In terms of Columbia-Snake salmon declines, we’ve already lost more than 25,000 jobs. This hemorrhaging must stop.”

Among those hardest hit by the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis are commercial and sport fishermen. Repeated fishery closures and cutbacks in recent years have harmed river and coastal family businesses and livelihoods. Fishing groups have been at the forefront of this legal battle for decades. Spring chinook returns are down again this year and fishermen are hurting now more than ever.

“As salmon have declined, so have our jobs and towns,” said Marty Sherman, a Northwest sport fisherman. “Failed federal salmon policies on the Columbia and Snake rivers bear much of the blame. We’re hopeful that the Obama administration will listen to the unique economic perspective we have as fishermen and help the fishing industry to recover some jobs.”

On Wednesday, officials will take a tour of Lower Monumental Dam in southeastern Washington. Scientists have said that this dam and three others on the Lower Snake River should be breached in order to restore wild salmon and steelhead; some Snake River stocks have plummeted by 90 percent since the lower river dams were completed in the mid-1970s. On Thursday, the delegation will meet with agency leaders in Seattle before returning to Washington, D.C.

Support for changing course on Columbia-Snake salmon policy has been growing in recent months. More than 70 members of Congress, a former Northwest governor, over 115 businesses, hundreds of fishing organizations, scientists and the heads of major national conservation groups have urged the Obama administration to convene a “solutions table” to help forge a long-lasting resolution to this issue.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden indicated to federal agencies in a letter to the parties that the 2008 Columbia-Snake salmon plan — a holdover from the Bush administration — remains seriously flawed under science and law. In his letter, Judge Redden said: “Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water, and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act… We simply cannot afford to waste another decade.”

Contact: Emily Nuchols, Save Our Wild Salmon, emily@wildsalmon.org or 360.510.8696

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

If salmon can't be saved, Snake River dams may have to go

Los Angeles Times
Greenspace: Environmental news from California and beyond
8:05 PM, May 18, 2009


For years, the federal government has struggled to find a way to operate the massive hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest--and also try to recover the endangered salmon that are all-too-frequently slaughtered at the massive dams as they make their way up and down the river.

One obvious option for saving the fish has never really been on the table: breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River that stand between the salmon and millions of acres of pristine habitat in central Idaho and northeastern Oregon.

Former President George Bush made it clear it would never be an option on his watch. The dams, after all, are generating enough electricity to power the city of Seattle, and provide Lewiston, Idaho, with a port for barging valuable cargoes of grain 140 miles down the river.

But it's a new watch. And a federal judge in Oregon has signaled that breaching the Snake River dams needs to be considered, at least as a contingency plan, if other options for bringing back salmon fail to do the job.

In a letter to parties in the long-running litigation, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden made it clear he is ready to find substantial shortcomings in the biological opinion for salmon recovery laid out by the Bush administration last year.

"Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water, and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act. Only recently have they begun to commit the kind of financial and political capital necessary to save these threatened and endangered species, some of which are on the brink of extinction. We simply cannot afford to waste another decade," the judge wrote.

The government needs to develop a contingency plan to study "specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns," the Portland-based judge wrote, "as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail." Download Judge Redden's letter

Reading between the lines, it looks like yet another federal salmon recovery plan is on its way to getting tossed out by the courts--by a judge who's ready to look at the most serious of options, dam breaching, if it comes to that.

"This is a significant development in the case, because it indicates to the new administration that they have a significant problem to solve in order to come up with a plan that will protect these species and all the people that depend on them," said Todd True, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.

"We believe that a serious look at the science and the options we have for bringing the fish back will lead to the conclusion that removing dams on the lower Snake River is a critical step that we should stop dancing around and start dealing with."

Brian Gorman, a NOAA spokesman in Seattle, said the agency could not comment on the judge's letter before reviewing it. But he said government scientists believe they can bring salmon populations back without breaching the dams.

"I don't think anyone argues that conditions in there for fish would be improved if there were no dams, but what we have argued in this biological opinion is that we can get to where we need to go without breaching the dams," he said. "Given the fact that breaching the dams would be enormously disruptive politically and socially and economically."

The Justice Dept. this month requested a delay in the court case of up to two months in order to get up to "more fully understand all aspects" of the plan. Redden said his letter was intended as a guide to what issues he thinks need looking at.

Government scientists "improperly rely on speculative, uncertain and unidentified tributary and estuary habitat improvement actions to find that threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead are, in fact, trending toward recovery," he complained.

"All of us know that aggressive action is necessary to save this vital resource," the judge said, "and now is the time to make that happen."

-- Kim Murphy