Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oregon Gubenatorial Candidates Discuss What's at Stake for Salmon

Together with Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Oregon Wild, Oregon Environmental Council, and Environment Oregon, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters hosted an Environmental Gubernatorial Debate on Tuesday, and salmon were a hot topic.

Over 1,000 people watch as gubernatorial candidates Allen Alley, Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber debated a variety of issues, but the three spent a fair amount of time focusing on Oregon's iconic species, from watershed issues to what the impact of climate change is on these fish.

When asked "what would you do to protect and bring back Oregon salmon?" by panelist Bob Van Dyk, Professor of Politics and Government at Pacific University and Forest Policy Adviser for the Wild Salmon Center, Alley responded with
"How much does it cost and how much are we willing to spend?"

We'd counter that by asking, what's the cost of NOT protecting salmon? We're hoping the discussion continues throughout the race!

You can watch the whole debate here. Salmon discussion starts around 44:00.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Damn Those Dams: We Love Our Rivers Wild + Free-Flowing!

Via the Under Solen blog:

Photo courtesy Save Our Wild Salmon. © Matt Leidecker

I started my love affair with rivers at a very early age — spending every day possible splashing, swimming, boating or camping on wild waterways in the Inland Northwest.

My mother and I used to stand on the bridge above Spokane Falls and let the spray hit our face. And I’ll never forget the day she told me that salmon used to make it all the way to these falls — massive 100-pound “June hogs” — but I would never see those salmon in my lifetime. Grand Coulee dam, upon its completion, successfully cut off salmon populations from their upstream spawning grounds and stifled one of the most powerful rivers in the world.

From that moment, my passion for rivers and salmon snowballed to where we are today. It is why we’re working with the kick-ass folks of Save Our Wild Salmon, who have channeled their passion to one river — the Snake River that begins in the heart of the Tetons and flows through the rugged Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho to feed the mighty Columbia. This dedicated group is taking on the federal government to remove four dams, restore a free-flowing Snake River and recover the iconic Snake River salmon in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.

Chris Kassar feels the power of the raw free flowing Rio Baker at the beautiful water fall - Hydro Asyens proposal to put a dam here would forever change Chile's longest and wildest river. Courtesy Rios Libres.

And today, I read a post over on the Osprey blog from Craig Childs who is on the Rio Baker in Patagonia with the Rios Libres group working to protect the free-flowing river from proposed hydropower dams:

I don’t know why I want this river to run. I could not sit at a table with a microphone and explain it. I don’t know why the heart breaks when we have drawn and quartered yet another landscape, named it as ours, used it to fuel our every global ambition from paper clips to plastic cups. But god do I want this river to move, another dark thread binding the surface of this planet, another path uninterrupted.

Read more about the Rio Baker…

That is exactly why we’re fighting so hard for free-flowing rivers. Because our heart demands it. Because we’re it. We’re the last generation who can save these rivers for our kids and grandkids. To the folks at Save Our Wild Salmon: Keep up the good fight. We’re with you every step of the way!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Scientists call out Obama's 2010 plans for salmon

Federal approach still harms salmon
Oregonian Op-Ed - March 22, 2010
Op-Ed co-written by Rod Sando, Doug DeHart,
Dan Diggs, Jim Martin, Bill Shake, and Don Swartz

*Read the science review from AFS mentioned in the op-ed.

No greater challenge faces managers of Pacific Northwest resources than restoration of salmon in the Columbia River.

We initially welcomed the Obama administration's request to federal Judge James Redden to delay his ruling and review the previous administration's salmon policies; a testament to President Obama's commitment -- given in speeches before hundreds of scientists across this nation -- to restore science to "its rightful place" in public policy decision making.

However, as retired career professionals with nearly 230 combined years of experience, we are saddened the commitment remains unfulfilled. That broken promise is no more evident than in the federal government's response to protecting the icon of the Northwest, the salmon and steelhead of the Columbia-Snake River Basin.

Clearly, other scientists concur. The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society, professionals who don't represent any special interest or organization, recently issued its own scientific peer review, criticizing the Obama administration's proposed changes to the previous administration's salmon policies.

The society stated that the administration has "not used the best scientific information" and found the plan "to be inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin."

The federal agencies have again chosen to protect the status quo over protecting salmon and steelhead by eliminating spill during key migration times. The science clearly demonstrates that spilling water over the dams increases the survival of young salmon migrating to the sea. The increased adult salmon returns over the past several years support the science. Since 2006, Redden has forced the federal government to provide this critical salmon protection, and the fish have responded even better then we predicted.

The year 2010, like 2007, will see limited snowpack and lower flows for the salmon journey. But, in 2007, Redden ordered federal agencies to spill water over the dams to aid salmon. This strategy eased survival risks and contributed to increased returns of threatened sockeye, steelhead and chinook.

Court-ordered spill has instituted a share-the-risk approach to salmon management that has proved its value for several years. Continuing spill, even in low-flow years, is an investment in the future.

Anything less is regression to failed past policies. The federal proposal to eliminate this key salmon protection when so many listed fish are in the river does not pass a scientific red-face test.

The job of the federal agencies is to protect and restore salmon and steelhead to the Columbia-Snake River Basin. This job requires the federal government to put less effort into protecting the status quo and more into protecting the listed salmon and steelhead.

Rod Sando is retired director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Co-authors were: Doug DeHart, retired chief of fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Dan Diggs, retired assistant regional fisheries director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Jim Martin, retired chief of fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; Bill Shake, retired assistant regional fisheries director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Don Swartz, retired fisheries manager, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why is Bonneville Power crafting salmon science?

What don't we know about the Columbia salmon plan?
Oregonian Op-Ed
March 19, 2010
by Steven Hawley

The water supply for the Pacific Northwest for 2010 looks depressingly like it did in 2001. That was a profitable year for some of the Bonneville Power Administration's industrial customers. By laying off workers, shuttering their operations and selling their subsidized BPA power on the hyper-inflated spot electricity market, these "Direct Service Industry" clients themselves a cool $1.2 billion profit.

But a windfall for the aluminum industry was a downfall for salmon and the BPA. Mortality for out-migrating juvenile salmon topped 90 percent for some Snake River fish. The BPA hemorrhaged ratepayer money as if it were the Fed pulling out all the stops to save AIG, buying back dirt-cheap subsidized power contracts at going market rates. The power agency had commitments to supply 11,000 megawatts of power. But in a drought year, it had only 8,000 to give.

Ostensibly, those days are long gone. With the slumping economy, power demand is down. BPA customers flocked back to hydro after corporate deals made in the wake of deregulation proved too good to be true, allowing the agency to nurture a healthy rainy-day fund as well as meet its cumbersome debt payments to the U.S. Treasury. Best of all, the BPA claims it has finally solved the salmon crisis.

In a keynote address given last December to Northwest RiverPartners, a lobbying outfit representing Alcoa, Weyerhaeuser and many of the region's public and private utilities, BPA Administrator Steve Wright told the audience that the 2008 biological opinion -- known as a bi-op -- for Columbia and Snake River salmon, currently under review in federal court, should be celebrated "for its fidelity to the science, its allegiance to the law and its adherence to meaningful collaboration."

What records are available from that process suggests that there's a cork that might need to be popped from somewhere other than a champagne bottle. To acquire science that supports its bottom line, the BPA seems to have borrowed a familiar strategy from private industry. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the agency charged with determining whether the federal plan for the hydro system won't further jeopardize endangered salmon runs. NOAA's salmon research depends to an alarming degree on the BPA's money.

According to its own records, over the past decade the BPA has given $83 million to the Northwest Division of NOAA-Fisheries. Another $51 million comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That's a big investment in fidelity on behalf of federal defendants. But does the devotion flow to the legal standard of "the best available science"?

The best available evidence suggests not. In its review of the few new wrinkles added to the Bush-era bi-op by the Obama administration, the American Fisheries Society observed, "It appears that there is an undue emphasis on more monitoring and modeling than on implementing beneficial actions. A logical assumption therefore is that the primary output will be merely that [salmon population] declines are more accurately documented."

Read more of Hawley's op-ed in the Oregonian

Thursday, March 11, 2010

L.A. Times - An upstream battle over chinook salmon

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board calls on Obama for a strong salmon plan, including the option to remove the four lower Snake River dams.

"The federal government has spent $8 billion trying to restore salmon populations without fish ladders and hatcheries. It hasn't worked. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been trying to get federal courts to approve a plan, barely improved on since the court-rejected plan of the George W. Bush years, that would keep the fish on the edge of endangerment instead of bringing back a flourishing fishery.

A better solution for all of these creatures would be a strong plan from the Obama administration on recovery for the Columbia River salmon, including the possibility of breaching one or more dams along the lower Snake River."

Read more of the L.A. Times editorial.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dam Buster Yvon Chouinard: Taking Down A Dam Is a "Concrete Victory"

"When you take out a dam, that's a real victory. A concrete victory so to speak." — Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia clothing company.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Obama Team Ignores Orca Population Crisis

While Top Fisheries Scientists Find Obama Salmon Plan Insufficient to Protect Salmon, It Doesn’t Even Consider Endangered Orcas Jeopardized by Salmon Shortages

Contact: Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research, (360) 378-5835

This can also be found at the Seattle PI's Blog - "City Brights" - hosted by Candace Calloway Whiting

Friday Harbor, WA — The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS) this week released a scientific review of the Obama Administration’s proposed additions to the federal salmon plan for the Columbia-Snake River Basin. Even though the WDAFS report is sharply critical of the Obama team’s salmon science, it does not comment on one of the most glaring errors in the salmon plan: Its complete failure to consider the effects of salmon declines on endangered Southern Resident orcas.

The society’s assessment concludes that the Obama addendum, issued by NOAA Fisheries last September and known as the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan or AMIP, is not aggressive, rigorous, or specific enough to help bolster imperiled runs of wild salmon and steelhead. The American Fisheries Society is the world’s largest and oldest organization of fisheries professionals; its 3,500-member Western Division covers the 13 western states and British Columbia, including the entire Columbia Basin.

The WDAFS review looked at what the Obama team had itself analyzed and included in the AMIP. For that reason, the review – like the Obama plan itself – does not even include the words “orca” or “killer whale,” much less examine how the salmon crisis is driving orcas closer to extinction.

Federal law required the Bush Administration’s 2008 salmon plan to include an assessment of whether the hydropower operations in the Columbia Basin might jeopardize the endangered Puget Sound orcas (also known as killer whales). Those giant marine mammals eat predominantly chinook salmon, and have had difficulty finding enough to stay healthy. The 2008 salmon plan briefly dismissed any risk to the orcas from the dam-related salmon mortality.

The Obama team’s review of the Bush plan did not reconsider that finding.

In its review, AFS’s Western Division stated that while the AMIP includes some measures that are helpful to salmon, those actions are still “inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.” Further, the review concludes that the AMIP “does not always use the ‘best scientific information,’” while its Rapid Response Actions – a central feature of the government’s salmon plan postscript – are neither rapid nor particularly responsive.

Kenneth C. Balcomb, Principal Investigator of the Center for Whale Research, has been tracking, researching and publishing research on Southern Residents since 1976. He said:

“As bad as the AMIP is with respect to salmon – and the AFS review makes plain that it is very bad – it is even worse with respect to Puget Sound’s resident orca population. First, every one of the shortcomings with respect to salmon reflects a shortcoming with respect to the primary prey of these orcas. Second, the Obama team simply ignored the proven relationship between salmon mortality and orca population declines. Had it been concerned about a thorough backstopping of the 2008 Bush BiOp, the Obama team would have given at least a passing glance to the other Pacific Northwest icon, the orca.” The current depleted Southern Resident population consumes about 820,000 chinook salmon each year.

Balcomb also noted that while NOAA was reviewing the Bush-era plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, it released a salmon plan for the Sacramento River, in which it emphatically recognized that Southern Residents will not survive if water operations keep killing chinook salmon. “And in the Sacramento River plan, NOAA stated clearly that mortality to wild salmon jeopardizes orcas, regardless of the hatchery fish produced as mitigation. Why that finding should be different on the Columbia is a mystery.”

Southern Residents are fish-eating orcas that spend much of the year in Puget Sound and the Georgia Straits. They historically had a population of at least 200. Over the last 20 years, the population has varied between 71 and 97 individuals and is currently at 88. At that level, the population cannot survive.

“People who care about Southern Residents should insist that the Obama Administration seize the opportunity to correct the shortcomings of the 2008 salmon plan. Not only does it matter for salmon – it is essential for the survival of Puget Sound’s orcas.”

“Fishery managers throughout the eastern North Pacific would do well to heed the warnings from these mobile top predators,” he added. “If we deplete the Chinook of one river system, they will travel as necessary to the resources of another river system and confound the best efforts of fishery scientists to ‘predict’ returns based upon historical patterns. They must be included in the analyses and the ‘allotments,’ not hated or dismissed as a factor. What has happened here and in the Columbia has affected the Klamath and Sacramento system.”

For more information on the Center for Whale Research and Southern Resident Orcas, see

The Western Division of AFS’s review of the Obama Administration’s AMIP is at


Monday, March 8, 2010

A simple ask

Groups to Washington State: Give Endangered Salmon a Fighting Chance by Changing Water Releases

Petition Urges State Department of Ecology to Follow Oregon and Allow Scientifically Supported Water Releases to Get Baby Salmon Past Big Dams

March 8, 2010
Olympia, WA - Commercial and sport fishing associations, partnering with conservation groups, petitioned the Washington Department of Ecology today to help the downstream migration of endangered salmon by allowing water to be spilled over Columbia and Snake River dams at levels that will improve salmon survival.

Spilling water over the dams-- rather than forcing it through turbines and complex bypass systems-- is critical to aid endangered migrating salmon and steelhead because it is the safest and best way for baby salmon to get to sea. Extensive scientific studies show that fish do much better riding over the tops of the dams-- as they once did over the free-flowing Columbia's waterfalls-- than they do going through the deadly turbines.

"We are filing this petition to the Washington Department of Ecology to give salmon more of what they need to survive," said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), a trade organization for West Coast commercial fishing families. "Allowing more water (and fish) to flow over the dams and not go through the turbines will simply help these fish survive, as well as the coastal and inland communities who depend on them for their livelihoods."

Even in low water conditions, spilling water over the dams has helped produce some of the best returns of salmon and steelhead seen in many years. The returning salmon have given a shot-in- the-arm to sport and commercial fisheries in the Columbia River at a time when the rest of the West Coast salmon fishing picture has been a disaster.

"This petition needs to be granted -- and fast-- to help our Northwest salmon economy recover and become strong again," said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "Spill is a proven, effective action that will help to ensure that there will always be sustainable salmon runs for the people and communities that depend on them."

Read more on the petition to the Washington Department of Ecology

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Energy Efficiency Can Replace the Four Lower Snake River Dams

Every five years, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council produces a plan for meeting the next 20 years of electricity needs – a plan that guides the decisions of Bonneville Power Administration and the public utilities that the BPA serves, and sets benchmarks for all of the region's utilities.

Last month, the Council approved it's 6th plan, which says the region can and should meet the majority (85%) of new power needs with energy efficiency costing far less than power from any new generating facility. Almost all the rest will be met with the new renewable energy already required by Northwest states.

From Sara Patton, NW Energy Coalition's Executive Director, in her op-ed to the Oregonian:
Meanwhile, commercial and sports fishermen and other salmon advocates believe successful salmon recovery will require some changes to the hydropower system, possibly including removal of the lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington. If the dams go, the system will have to replace about enough electricity to meet the needs of Seattle as well as some system backup services.

To help inform the region on the coal and salmon issues, the Council studied shutting off enough coal power (40 percent, or about 1,500 average megawatts) by 2020 to meet state requirements while also removing the four Lower Snake River dams. It found that even after meeting growing electric demand, after slashing coal use and after taking measures that may prove necessary for salmon survival, customers' bills still will go down.

How is that possible? It's all the energy efficiency: more efficient TVs, motors, lights, air conditioners, buildings and manufacturing. Saving energy is cheaper than any kind of generation. Council analysis shows that realizing the plan's energy efficiency goals — targets consistent with the recent trend in utility achievement — will reduce average residential electricity about a tenth of a percent a year, even if we replace some of the power from dirty coal plants and the four Snake River dams.