Monday, December 19, 2011

Of Fish Farms, the Absurd, and the Unnatural

Guest Blog by Michael Shurgott

The American Heritage Dictionary defines absurd as: "Ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable; [lack of] order or value in human life or in the universe; meaningless." Unnatural means: "Violating natural law; inconsistent with an individual pattern or custom; deviating from a behavioral, ethical, or social norm."

I submit that the proposal to add a huge fish farm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (as reported earlier in the Seattle Times: “Plan for huge fish farm in Strait roils the waters”) is hideously absurd and unnatural, and should be scrapped immediately.

Fish farms raise Atlantic salmon, a non-native (i.e., unnatural and invasive) species, in huge nets that cram millions of fish into an unnatural and unhealthy environment. In these pens, fish waste is concentrated and the pens promote disease, including the highly contagious and deadly ISA virus, which has been spread across the planet by farmed fish. It has contributed not only to the deaths of millions of farmed fish around the world but also been implicated as a potential cause for the collapse of the famed Fraser River wild sockeye runs in Canada.

Further, to compound the unnaturalness and absurdity of these farms, the farmed fish are fed wild fish and the fish farmers kill hundreds of seals and sea lions that are attracted to the pens. Anticipating the impending restoration of a free-flowing Elwha River and presumably huge runs of wild salmon, if the Juan de Fuca fish farm is allowed to operate will we see fish farmers seeking to kill not only more seals and sea lions but also endangered orcas that will be attracted to the Elwha’s wild fish runs? Would we tolerate the absurdity of killing increasingly large numbers of ocean predators, and thus further upsetting the natural balance of ocean wildlife, because we have destroyed so many wild salmon runs that we have to rely on farmed fish? Does ANY part of this scenario make sense?

Meanwhile, despite mountains of science, the federal government continues to resist efforts to remove the unnecessary earthen dams on the lower Snake River that block more than five thousand miles of wild salmon spawning grounds – the largest, wildest, healthiest and best-protected salmon habitat in the ‘Lower 48’. In fact, the Obama administration’s first approach to salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake Rivers embraced the Bush administration's that once argued that since the Snake River dams are in place we should think of them as being part of the river's "natural environment." Really? How much more absurd can this situation become?

Instead of building more fish farms that breed invasive species, spread disease, and devastate ocean wildlife, we should promote and restore the natural ocean environment and abandon the absurd idea that we can ignore natural processes that have evolved over millenia.

Michael Shurgott is the former chair of the Conservation Committee at The Mountaineers and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Mountaineers Foundation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thank you, Judge Redden

From the desk of Pat Ford, executive director of Save Our wild Salmon:

If salmon could talk, each one would have the same words for U.S. District Judge James Redden, who announced Tuesday that he is stepping down from the Columbia/Snake salmon case he has presided over for 12 years.

The words: Thank You.

Over those 12 years, Judge Redden has done more to restore Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead than any other individual. He has struck down three status quo-protecting salmon plans from three different administrations. He has ordered since 2006 the single most beneficial action to restore Columbia Basin salmon: spring and summer spill at the federal dams. He deserves most of the credit for all the actions now being taken or funded by federal agencies to improve spawning, rearing and estuary habitats for Columbia Basin salmon - actions which are not enough to restore the endangered stocks, but which will benefit them.

Thanks to Judge Redden, there are far more salmon-based jobs in the Northwest and on the West coast than we would otherwise have. Hundreds of communities and thousands of families are in his debt for that. By upholding the law, he has done more to protect and create salmon jobs in the six salmon states than three administrations combined.

Thanks to Judge Redden, the Obama Administration must now take a comprehensive new look at removing the lower Snake River dams, at boosting flows through federal dams on the Columbia and Snake, and at other actions needed to address the core problem that three Administrations have refused to address: the federal dams kill too many salmon, and those deaths must be reduced if Columbia and Snake River salmon are to be rescued from extinction and returned to productivity.

He did his job; he applied the law fairly and clearly. We hope and urge the Administration to do the same.

Judge Redden, on behalf of everyone in the salmon states and our country who cares about salmon: Thank You. We are in your debt. We are more grateful than we can say.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Highway to Hell Freezes Over

From the desk of Pat Ford, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon:

I am happy to report a victory, incomplete but real, for people and rivers, salmon and wildness. Exxon's plan to use the lower Snake River and Idaho and Montana scenic local roads to transport gargantuan mining/milling equipment to the Alberta tar sands seems close to death. A year ago, Bobby Hayden of SOS named the scheme "Highway to Hell", a good literal description. Like Frankenstein in the northern ice at the end of Mary Shelley's tale, it is now frozen. 

There will be sequels, and we know ice melts. We cannot prematurely count out the world's largest corporation, Exxon has shifted its plans geographically rather than giving up (its new proposed highway route threatens parts of Spokane), and the beast this one tentacle was to serve, tar sands production itself, goes on. But last week Exxon announced its equipment will still be barged on the Columbia River to the Tri-Cities, but for now will not come on to Lewiston to then threaten Highway 12, the communities along it, and the salmon of the Snake, Clearwater, and Salmon Rivers. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

WA Leaders: Support Salmon with Solutions Table

This week, Washington State’s Governor Christine Gregoire and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were urged to take a new approach to Columbia Basin salmon restoration. The letter, signed by 15 Northwest conservation groups, asks Washington’s leaders to support the establishment of a new, stakeholder-based solutions table to save Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead.

The letter echoes a message nearly 1,200 American businesses sent to President Obama in August, just after a federal judge ruled the government’s plan inadequate and illegal. Conservationists, fishermen, and business leaders are calling for a new approach to salmon restoration that brings together affected communities to work collaboratively and craft a lawful, science-based plan that meets the needs of affected communities.

Click here to read the full letter.

Do you live in Washington State? Click here to contact Governor Gregoire and Senators Murray and Cantwell.

With four federal salmon plans ruled illegal since 1995, we’re long overdue to convene an inclusive, collaborative stakeholder process that is serious about saving salmon and protecting communities. Let’s make it happen.

Letter signers include: Sierra Club, NW Energy Coalition, Earthjustice, American Rivers, American Whitewater, Orca Network, Wild Steelhead Coalition, Save Our wild Salmon, People for Puget Sound, Washington Environmental Council, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, The Lands Council, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, The Mountaineers

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

First Elwha, then White Salmon. Next up: SNAKE

Watching the Condit Dam precision explosion today on the White Salmon River was an emotional experience. (In case you missed it, watch it HERE online.) The crowd was excited and jumpy in the final minutes leading up to the blast. Loud horns sounded the countdown. There were some tears of relief and joy, but mostly smiles and laughter. A strong sense of camaraderie was felt; everyone who was present cares about proper river restoration. Cares about wild fish recovering. Cares about the jobs to be created and the businesses to benefit. And everyone present knows just how hard it was to get to this day.

Like the two dams coming out on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park, Condit Dam took more than a decade of negotiation, collaboration and review before breaching became a tangible possibility. Many heated debates, political and legal battles were waged to reach agreement. As a result, today is a day of celebration.

For other campaigns in river restoration, the Elwha and Condit dams represent renewed enthusiasm. They are extremely powerful reminders of what is possible. We CAN achieve a better future. We CAN save rivers, and save fish. And we WILL continue to do so.

There are many differences between Elwha dam removal, the breaching of Condit dam, and the four dams on the lower Snake River. But there are similar fundamentals. One is that when it costs more to leave dams in operation than it does to remove them, the dams are likely to go.

As the Elwha and White Salmon Rivers are reborn, and we see the communities around them benefit, jobs increase, and salmon return, we also step closer to success in restoring the lower Snake River, and the highest- and longest-migrating salmon assemblage in the world.

We won’t give up. While we’ve always known that we must, today we are reminded that we can, and will, succeed. 

Many thanks to partners that have worked hard to make a free-flowing White Salmon a reality: American Rivers, American Whitewater, Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of the White Salmon, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Mountaineers, Trout Unlimited.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Congressman Hastings: Playing Fast and Loose with the Salmon Facts

Many people are familiar with PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times that fact-checks quotes by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups to determine their overall accuracy. A recent statement from Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA) about salmon restoration efforts in the Pacific Northwest got us wondering if it’s time for the debut of a salmon-oriented offshoot, FishFact.

Now, it’s certainly not unusual for members of Congress to occasionally engage in rhetorical hopscotch or to stretch the truth here and there in order to make a punchier point. But in his October 14 Weekly Message, “Protecting Northwest Investments,” Congressman Hastings takes the time-honored practice of embellishment a step further by contradicting himself in the course of a single news release.

Here’s where Congressman Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, gets tripped up by the facts, and by his own words:
  • Congressman Hastings says, “This year, the region will again experience record or near-record salmon returns.” In actuality, many key populations of wild salmon remain perilously low, with most wild runs still at or near the levels that led to their protection under the Endangered Species Act in the first place. Still, the Columbia Basin has seen modestly higher salmon returns over the past couple of years, with hatchery fish comprising about 80% of those returns. The near-unanimous scientific explanation for these slightly-better-than-average numbers? Good ocean conditions and an in-river salmon protection measure called spill, where federal agencies send water over the tops of dams to help young salmon safely reach the ocean during their spring and summer out-migrations. Even longtime opponents of spill, such as the Bonneville Power Administration, now admit that the practice works and has contributed to the recent boost in returns.
  • But Congressman Hastings then begs to differ with just about every fish biologist in the Northwest: “Unfortunately, new salmon-related regulations based on faulty science have led to wasteful spilling of water through [sic] federal dams…” The congressman does not elaborate on which new regulations or faulty science he’s referring to, nor why the spilling of water is wasteful; but perhaps most importantly, Mr. Hastings fails to square his critique of spill with his claims of record salmon returns. Since we don’t get a bump in fish numbers without spilling water over the dams, the congressman will need to choose which myth he’d like to perpetuate: spill is bad vs. record returns. In this case, he can’t have it both ways.
  • Congressman Hastings goes on to say that the federal government has done little “to address the most pressing threats to salmon.” We couldn’t agree more, but we suspect Mr. Hastings is referring to a different set of threats; while most scientists recognize the federal dams as the most significant threat to Columbia and Snake River salmon, it appears Congressman Hastings believes that salmon have more to fear from birds and sea lions. We don’t want to discount the impact that predation has on imperiled salmon populations, but let’s keep things in perspective: sea lions consume between 2-4% of returning salmon (specifically spring chinook), while the federal hydropower system accounts for as much as 75% of human-caused mortality for some stocks. Clearly we should do all we can to reduce salmon mortality across the board, but Congressman Hastings’ focus on downplaying and even ignoring the massive harm caused by the federal hydrosystem won’t get us very far. To achieve actual salmon recovery – wild salmon recovery – we must turn our collective attention to making meaningful changes at the federal dams. Scientists tell us that this is the path to salmon abundance.
  • Speaking of the federal dams, Congressman Hastings rarely misses an opportunity to dismiss lower Snake River dam breaching as a cockamamie idea, and his October 14 release is no exception; in it, he states, “Dam removal is an extreme action that would be devastating to the Pacific Northwest economy and is not proven to increase fish populations.” However, we’re not sure what evidence Mr. Hastings has to back either of these claims. In fact, study after study has concluded that removing the four dams on the lower Snake River is the most biologically certain (and perhaps only) way to recover imperiled Snake River salmon and steelhead. Other dam removals in the region (e.g., the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River) have already resulted in improved salmon returns. Furthermore, many studies have shown that dam removal is a cost-effective solution (and certainly more so than the current path of spending $1 billion per year on a salmon plan that’s not working) that would create thousands of jobs and revitalize rural economies from the Pacific Coast to Central Idaho.
Despite our clear differences with Congressman Hastings, we wholeheartedly agree with him on one point from his Weekly Message: when it comes to salmon recovery efforts, we should ensure that we’re “using the best data and science we have available.” To that end, we respectfully challenge Mr. Hastings to a “science-off.” Our data against his: may the best facts win.

Or better yet, we invite the congressman to join us in supporting a collaborative process where affected stakeholders can sit down together and discuss all scientifically credible salmon restoration options. Mr. Hastings has rejected this idea so far, but we think there’s a lot to be said for talking through our differences. A stakeholder table focused on solutions could be the key to resolving our decades-old salmon crisis; we hope Congressman Hastings is willing to pull up a chair.

Gilly Lyons is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Save Our wild Salmon Coalition.

In the Northwest, dams are falling (but the sky is not)

While dams across the country are being removed to restore healthier, free-flowing rivers, in many ways the Northwest - and especially Washington and Oregon - has become the epicenter for the movement these days.

These historic projects are restoring healthy rivers, recovering fish populations, providing increased fishing opportunities, and creating much-needed jobs.  Our partners at American Rivers have rightly dubbed 2011 The Year of the River.

September on the Elwha

Year of the River: Episode 1 from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Amid much well deserved fanfare last month, the restoration of the Elwha River – previously throttled by two gigantic concrete walls for 100 years - began with massive jackhammers and backhoes. The removal of America's largest dams yet will require about 2.5 years to complete. During its pre-dam glory, the Elwha River drainage was a premier salmon and steelhead river - home to more 400,000 fish each year, including 100-pound chinook as well as chum, sockeye, coho, pinks, and steelhead. Restoring this river is expected to generate over time the greatest salmon restoration this country has yet seen, and with it, hundreds of jobs.

While there are some emerging debates and disagreements about techniques being used to restore salmon and steelhead populations, such as the sources of fish being used to repopulate the basin and whether the use of hatcheries in this case is a wise choice, Save Our Wild Salmon is excited about this project and the fact that we have progressed to the point where we are now having these types of debates, about how we will recover fish in the newly-restored river.

October on the White Salmon

Year of the River: Episode 2 from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Following quickly on the heels the Elwha River Project is the removal of Condit Dam and restoration of the White Salmon River, a tributary of the Columbia River in southwest Washington. On October 26, contractors will blast a hole in the dam's concrete base and drain the 92-acre reservoir in just six hours. The torrent will snake 3.3 miles downstream to the Columbia River, taking with it millions of cubic yards of sediment that have settled behind the dam over the past 98 years.

While Elwha River restoration is slow-going, a free-flowing White Salmon River will occur literally overnight, though the full removal of the dam is expected to take months, and washing out the load of sediments downstream from the dam site could potentially take a couple of years.

White Salmon Fall Chinook salmon were recently trapped downstream and transported above the dams into habitat they have not visited in nearly a century. They are already making nests and kick-starting the re-colonization process.

What this means for the Snake River 

Neither the White Salmon nor the Elwha River restoration projects were easy to pass or move forward. They are the result of years of hard work, collaborative effort, and scientific review. They are the result of strong leadership and legal process, bolstering regional economies and ecosystems.  While every river restoration project is different, lessons learned from the Elwha and Condit dam removal projects will be important in future policy decisions for other projects, such as on the Snake River.

Regardless of their differences, all these river restoration projects have similar traits in common: it costs more to leave these outdated, obsolete dams in place than it does to remove them. As we measure the salmon returning and the economic impact these projects have, we can look forward to future successful restoration projects. And know that it can be done. 

For recent coverage on the Elwha and White Salmon River Restoration efforts:

(1) Seattle Times: Elwha River Restoration video

(2) Elwha River Restoration Webcams.

(3) White Salmon River Restored  a timelapse project from filmmaker Andy Maser.

(4) Yakima-Herald Republic: Run Free, White Salmon

Thanks to Andy Maser Films for the awesome videos! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Running the Middle Fork of the Salmon River

Middle Fork of the Salmon River © Neil Ever Osborne

The following post is from professional endurance athlete, Luke Nelson. This Friday, Nelson, along with Ty Draney, will begin a multi-marathon run through the Frank Church Wilderness - over 120 miles in less than two days. Learn more about their epic journey.

Follow their run LIVE on Friday and Saturday, via SPOT messenger here.
Luke Nelson will be tweeting updates:

Luke Nelson
A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the entire summer working as a whitewater guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  It was not my first time on the river, as the Middle Fork had been my first wilderness multi-day river trip just prior to my 18th birthday.  When the opportunity to spend an entire summer on the Middle Fork came about I took it without hesitation. One visit to the Middle Fork left me yearning to return to it’s awe-inspiring clutches. 

There are very few places on this planet that can compare to the wildness of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, through which the Middle Fork of the Salmon River flows.  The natural and pristine immaculately preserved, throughout most of the river there is hardly noticeable traces of mankind's heavy hand.  Without fail, at the end of our six day trips down the river our guests would express their experience with phrases like “trip of a lifetime” or “time of my life”.  I would thank them with a smile, knowing inside that it was my life and I would be able to repeat the voyage in just over a day’s time.  When I finished work for that summer I teared up as I drove home knowing I wouldn’t be back for a season.  I knew I would still be able to go back, at some point.  Humans are not the only frequent visitors to the Middle Fork as it serves as the return route for salmon.  It’s headwaters are spawning grounds that are thousands of years old.  Yet, unlike myself there are many things that threaten the ability of Wild Salmon to return to the Middle Fork, including many hydroelectric projects on the Lower Snake River, into which the Middle Fork eventually flows. 

For a couple of years now I have tried, unsuccessfully, to win the lottery for a permit to float the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  It has been quite depressing every year to be turned down, knowing that my return to paradise is delayed.  Wild Salmon are in the same situation, trying to return, but inhibited by obstacles outside of their control.  During a run with a friend a little over a year ago an idea was hatched, to “run” the Middle Fork.   Not to run it in a 15-foot raft but to run the trail that follows the river for over seventy miles.  After a year a planning and logistics the stars have aligned for Ty Draney and I to “run” the Middle Fork.  There have been obstacles along the way but we will not be deterred, in the same way we hope to draw more awareness to the issues facing wild salmon so that they to may “run” freely in the Middle Fork and it’s headwaters once again.

Luke Nelson is a member of the US Ski Mountaineering Team, representing the team in February at the World Ski Mountaineering Championships in Italy. Nelson holds several records, including fastest ascent and the fastest car to car on Mount Borah, the highest peak in Idaho.  He is sponsored by La Sportiva, UltrAspire, First Endurance, and Nuun.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pres. Obama Greeted in Seattle by a 25-foot Salmon

Last Sunday, September 25th, President Obama visited Washington State on a very brief fundraising trip lasting mere hours that included stops at a private home in Medina and the Paramount Theater in Seattle. Because Presidential visits are rare occurrences in Seattle (his last visit was in 2009), we thought we would use the occasion to send President Obama a special message regarding salmon and jobs in the Northwest.

Last week’s Elwha river restoration festivities highlighted just one of the opportunities we have in the region to collaborate, protect and restore our natural resources in ways that create jobs and economic activity. As the nation’s largest dam removal effort ever, the story of the Elwha reflects positive momentum forward as we look at other restoration efforts, including on the lower Snake River.

Restoring rivers not only saves critical salmon and steelhead, but, done right, can also rebuild and recapture thousands of long-term jobs (and generate billions of dollars in economic activity). As we work to set an example for the nation with the Elwha and other rivers in need of restoration, these issues deserve the President’s attention.

So in an effort to capture President Obama’s attention, we decided to drive around Seattle near the Paramount Theater with our friend “Fin,” a 25-foot metal salmon sculpture on a trailer. She’s eye-catching, for sure.

Save Our wild Salmon Outreach Director Joseph Bogaard maneuvered Fin through the crowd-packed streets of Seattle. Joining him was Jeremy Brown, a salmon fisherman and board member of the Washington Trollers Association to talk about why salmon mean jobs, and why our President should care.

Said Jeremy outside the Paramount, “Restoring the Elwha River demonstrates that when communities work together, we are capable of achieving great things. Recovering Elwha River salmon means more fishing and more food. These are important benefits to local communities, as well as the obvious benefits to local wildlife too."

Added Joseph, “The President really needs to seize this opportunity to push forward on salmon restoration and jobs creation via collaborative, science-driven process now in the Columbia and Snake River Basin."

Image courtesy of Seattle Times

All other images courtesy of Noah Dolan/Save Our wild Salmon

Monday, September 26, 2011

A job creation opportunity for President Obama

The following is a guest blog from Paul Fish, president of Mountain Gear, an outdoor gear retailer based in Spokane, Washington.  Mountain Gear is one of over 1,100 businesses to call for decisive policy change in Columbia and Snake River salmon recovery. 

Please stand with Paul by taking action here. 

President Obama recently addressed the nation to outline a renewed plan for kick-starting an economy in crisis. As one piece of the larger puzzle, I urge the President, his administration, and members of Congress to take a close look at the opportunity to recapture lost jobs and create new ones by following good science and bringing people together to restore healthy, abundant runs of wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  I stand ready to work with the administration on a new path forward.

Those of us who live in salmon country understand how healthy salmon populations and good jobs go hand in hand.  Like thousands of other outdoor recreation businesses, Mountain Gear depends on wild backcountry, freely-flowing rivers and healthy fish and wildlife populations for our company’s bottom line. We understand firsthand the direct link between a healthy environment and a strong economy.

Mountain Gear is thankful to be based in Spokane, with its unparalleled backyard of wild lands, scenic mountains, great rivers and wild salmon. The region’s great outdoor recreation opportunities provide a high quality of life that attracts a talented and educated workforce important to our company and the local economy.

One of our greatest treasures is the Snake River and its wild salmon and steelhead. The basin’s many rivers (including the Salmon, Clearwater, Grande Ronde, Wenaha, and the Snake itself) are renowned for their fishing, rafting and hiking. The entire Columbia/Snake River Basin was once the most productive salmon watershed on the planet, with as many as 30 million fish returning to spawn each year.

Unfortunately, the health of this river system and its famed fisheries have been in decline for decades due to poor management and lack of political will.

American taxpayers and Northwest ratepayers have spent more than $10 billion on salmon recovery measures that have failed to protect and restore endangered fisheries in the basin. Declining salmon numbers have hurt regional fishing and outdoor recreation economies throughout the Pacific salmon states of Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The future of the Snake River has reached a critical tipping point. Early last month, a federal judge once again ruled the federal government’s proposed salmon plan illegal and inadequate. Science has shown again and again that any viable salmon recovery effort must include the removal of four costly dams on the lower Snake River. (See for example the June 2011 “Resolution of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society on the Role of Dams and Conservation of Snake River Salmon, Steelhead, Pacific Lamprey, and White Sturgeon”)

For the past eight years, however, federal agencies have attempted to circumvent this scientific consensus by failing to even consider dam removal as a viable option.

Guided by science and good information we can create many new jobs by restoring this magnificent fish, generating new recreational opportunities, investing in rural towns, enhancing the region’s clean energy and transportation infrastructures, and saving taxpayer dollars.

Recovering wild salmon and steelhead will create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars – not just for outdoor and sport fishing companies like mine, but also for rural and coastal communities throughout the Northwest and beyond.

It will not happen, however, without leadership. Seizing this opportunity depends on Washington state’s elected leaders, including Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, joining with President Obama to convene a forum driven by science and economics that puts stakeholders on equal footing with the federal agencies.

A Northwest ‘solutions table’ should be one part of a larger plan to get people working again – and solve other pressing problems at the same time. Done right, it can yield a blueprint to restore wild salmon and steelhead runs to vibrant, self-sustaining levels while creating much-needed family-wage jobs, investing in our economy and protecting our outdoor way of life.

Paul Fish is the president of Mountain Gear, an outdoor gear retailer based in Spokane, Washington. Paul Fish is one of more than one hundred companies in the outdoor gear industry – and more than 1,100 businesses overall - that supports an inclusive stakeholder settlement process in order to craft an effective, legal, and science-based salmon restoration plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, including a closer look at the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.

Again, please take action here to stand with Paul and the hundreds of other businesses across the country.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What do wild salmon, failed nuclear plants, and Google have in common?

They all play a role in how the hugely complex Federal Columbia River Power System – and the agency that runs it, the Bonneville Power Administration – makes and spends money. 

That was the take-home message from a hearing held yesterday in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power about a controversial bill, the Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Act, or HR 1719.  The legislation would require federal power agencies such as Bonneville to estimate and report their direct and indirect costs of complying with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

While the bill is veiled in consumer “right-to-know” language, here’s what consumers should really know: this bill isn’t about transparency.  Instead, HR 1719 would only create confusion (and perhaps ill-will toward protecting fish and wildlife) by distorting costs associated with ESA compliance.  

NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton was among the witnesses who testified at yesterday’s hearing, and described HR 1719 as unnecessary (ESA costs are already readily available to utilities and members of the public from both BPA and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council); one-sided (it would only require the reporting of ESA costs, and not the immense benefits associated with fish and wildlife protection); and virtually impossible to implement (BPA is obligated by a myriad of federal laws and treaties to restore fish and wildlife; HR 1719 proposes no way to distinguish which costs are specifically linked to meeting the requirements of the ESA).

But perhaps most alarmingly, H.R. 1719 codifies a kind of “black market” accounting: by including indirect costs like foregone revenue associated with legally-required salmon protection measures (such as spilling water over the dams to help young fish reach the ocean), the bill states that BPA is entitled to money it could have earned had it violated federal law (a highly controversial practice that BPA currently employs). In other words, under H.R. 1719, power administrations would be entitled to claim lost revenue from power that’s illegal to generate in the first place. Plus, the inclusion of foregone revenue in ESA costs creates the very false impression that these costs are far higher than they are in real life.  Salmon have it tough enough already; they don’t need fuzzy math and phantom kilowatts muddying the waters even further.

But enough about what HR 1719 would do…let’s talk for a moment about what it wouldn’t do.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, captured the bill’s shortcomings perfectly when he asked the witnesses whether any of BPA’s other big-ticket items should be spelled out on utilities’ monthly power bills – after all, if we’re trying to inform consumers about their electricity costs, we should make sure all the relevant information is available to them.  As Rep. Markey pointed out, this should include BPA’s payments to retire the massive debt it absorbed when Washington State’s nuclear power system (“WPPSS”) collapsed under its own weight in the 1980s, a sum that clocks in at about $550 million a year, with almost $6 billion in debt still outstanding.  But when asked if BPA’s utility customers should receive this information on their monthly bills, two of the panel’s witnesses (who testified in support of HR 1719, citing the importance of transparency) demurred, saying they weren’t prepared to support the inclusion of any other costs beyond those associated with ESA compliance.  This laser-like focus on ESA costs to the exclusion of all others begs the question: does HR 1719 have an anti-ESA bias?  Just sayin’.

Rep. Markey grappled with this possibility by noting the recent migration of hi-tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, to the Pacific Northwest.  An excellent example is Google’s decision to site its power-thirsty server farm in The Dalles, where it has easy access to some of the most affordable electricity in the United States: BPA-marketed power from the Columbia River dams.  Rep. Markey asked NWEC’s Sara Patton, “Have you heard Google complain about the Endangered Species Act?” to which Ms. Patton replied, “Not once.” Indeed, even with its investments in fish and wildlife protection, BPA provides electricity at rates that are the envy of the nation.  

Here's the video:

Efforts to blame the Endangered Species Act for economic woes (or jacked-up power rates) are as old as the Act itself.  And like most every other instance of species scapegoating, HR 1719 comes no closer to reality.  Salmon restoration is an integral part of BPA’s responsibilities, and a shared goal of all Northwesterners.  Distorting costs and confusing consumers will only get in the way of reaching that goal.  For that reason alone, HR 1719 should get mothballed along with Washington’s old, failed nuclear plants. 

Gilly Lyons is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Salmon still like water, BPA wind policy flawed

A new report released today concludes that the facts simply don't support the Bonneville Power Administration's choice of dam energy over wind energy policies this spring - under the rationale of “protecting salmon".

Turns out salmon still like water.   

In the report, analysts present biological data showing that Columbia and Snake River salmon populations were largely unharmed by this spring’s unusually high water and dissolved gas levels. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) chose to shut-off Northwest wind power projects’ access to the power grid over nearly two months.  The report concludes BPA’s policy did little to nothing to protect salmon. Wind energy companies have since filed a lawsuit against the BPA

Nicole Cordan, SOS’ Legal and Policy Director, “We suspected it was inaccurate for BPA to use salmon as its scapegoat to shut off wind power this year.  Now the actual biological data confirms that we were right and that the great majority of migrating salmon did okay despite the large amount of spill over the dams.”

In conditions of high flows, dams can cause a condition called gas bubble trauma (GBT) in migrating salmon when large volumes of water spill over them.  But less than one-tenth of one percent of salmon examined this spring and summer at the federal dams exhibited symptoms of severe gas bubble trauma and only slightly more than one percent of salmon showed any signs of trauma at all.  Check out the graph below, showing the percentage of cases of all fish affected by GBT (in red): 

The report has three major findings: 1) that BPA’s policy did not appreciably help salmon;  2) that Oregon’s total dissolved gas standard is better for salmon than the Washington standard BPA currently uses; and 3) that migrating salmon benefitted from high flows and increased spill while suffering little harm from increased gas levels.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On hand at Elwha

“It’s an exciting time to be a dam buster.”

Those were some of the opening remarks from Patagonia CEO and activist-legend Yvon Chouinard in his keynote address at a two-day science symposium on research and monitoring activities for the Elwha River dam removal project.

And he’s right. Never before has there been a more exciting moment for river restoration and salmon recovery. The removal of two dams on the Elwha River commences tomorrow, Saturday 17th, on the Olympic Peninsula. The project is the largest dam removal project in the world, ever.  Background on the Elwha Project here.

Yvon Chouinard

The free event was packed with hundreds of scientists, conservationists, and local business leaders in attendance. Representatives of the Olympic National Park Service, Washington Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Army Corps of Engineers were in attendance.

Matt Stoecker of Stoecker Ecological gave a brief presentation about his work to improve fisheries habitat in Southern California following a short film about his important work."The Elwha," he said, "is just the beginning."

Sam Mace, SOS’ Inland Northwest Project Director also spoke following a screening of the Patagonia film “Freedom to Roam.” Sam spoke about the importance of the Elwha project to other river restoration projects around the country including on the Lower Snake River. She thanked officials for working in collaboration to come up a with solution and pointed out that this is exactly the kind of collaboration and leadership now needed to save endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake River basins.

James Waddell from the Army Corps of Engineers and Sam Mace of Save Our Wild Salmon

Dylan Tomine, a Patagonia Flyfishing Ambassador, spoke briefly about the value of letting the Elwha River heal and restore the wild fisheries it once boasted. 

Yvon’s presentation addressed Patagonia’s early beginnings in building a company dedicated to the environment, addressing the fact that our water use and purchasing habits all have an impact. Purchasing sustainable wild fish is important, and to improve the situation, dam removal projects must continue. Patagonia cites dam removal as the “Holy Grail” of conservation, and they mean it.  As Mr. Chouinard said regarding dam removal, “we are on a roll!”

The event concluded with a special Q&A session were several conference attendees took the opportunity to publicly thank Mr. Chouinard for his dedication, and to all of those who helped make Elwha dam removal possible and continue to fight for river restoration elsewhere.

Special thanks to the Olympic National Park Service, the Elwha Research Consortium, Stoecker Ecological and Patagonia for a truly inspiring evening in the midst of this momentous occasion.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Elwha Project: Lessons for the Lower Snake River

Historic dam removal project sets important precedence for other rivers

By Pat Ford - Executive Director, Save our Wild Salmon

This Saturday, on September 17th, America celebrates a national achievement on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State:  removal of the two Elwha River dams. This is the largest dam removal project in the world, ever.  The Glines Canyon dam on the Elwha at 210 feet marks the highest dam ever removed as well.  Learn more about the Elwha project.

An exciting new video was released this week about the Elwha project by Andy Maser courtesy of American Rivers and American Whitewater:

Year of the River: Episode 1 from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Elwha River restoration will restore one of the west coast’s legendary salmon rivers, which once produced five separate salmon species, including Chinook salmon up to 50 pounds (by some accounts, even up to 100 pounds).  It will restore a cultural and economic heritage for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, a vital food source for Puget Sound’s endangered orca whales, and a world-class scenic and recreational attraction.  River restoration is also creating hundreds of jobs, with more to come as salmon recover.  And, after years of conflict, restoration is occurring collaboratively, via agreements that provide replacement power for local businesses and additional community benefits.  Credit for this runs from local people, to Washington elected leaders, all the way to the White House and Congress. And the rewards will flow as widely.

The restoration has another dimension at well:  it will teach us scientific, engineering, economic, and community lessons we can apply to other rivers.  Every river is different, and therefore every river restoration proposal must be judged on its individual merits. The Elwha project is applying lessons from earlier dam removals, and similar learning will come from it.

Our coalition’s fishing, business and conservation groups support restoring the lower Snake River a few hundred miles east of the Elwha.  The Elwha project will offer lessons for the lower Snake River in many areas, but I’ll note three of importance -- salmon response, economic impact, and collaboration:

  • Wild salmon have responded quickly and positively to every major dam removal done so far on a salmon river; quick adaptability is in their DNA.  The Elwha will provide the best lessons yet in how fast various species respond.  This is important for the lower Snake, where five species of salmon and steelhead will be affected.
  • Local economic benefit to Tribal and non-Tribal communities was not a primary motivator behind the Elwha campaign, but it has become a critical and closely watched feature of the project.  While the rural areas around the lower Snake have different dynamics from the communities near the Elwha, the importance of jobs is just as critical.  
  • After much conflict over two decades, the Elwha project finally came together due to collaborations in which all parties got something important to their future.  No doubt a collaborative process for the lower Snake will look very different, but the same principles can be applied for the farmers, fishermen, energy users, communities, and businesses involved.

The recent U.S. District Court verdict found the government’s Columbia and Snake River salmon plan illegal for the third straight time.  It ordered a new and full evaluation of restoring the Lower Snake River by removing its four dams.  That official evaluation should apply relevant lessons from the Elwha.  But more important is the people’s evaluation – people on the west coast, and across America – that will occur at the same time.  We are confident people will apply the lessons and spirit of the Elwha achievement to the Snake River.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Work Party for a Portland Gem

Participants in Portland's 2011 Backyard Collective

Members of the Save Our Wild Salmon crew were on hand for this year's Backyard Collective hosted by the Conservation AllianceThe Backyard Collectives provide a great way for member companies of the Alliance and Alliance grantee organizations to link up and give back to their local communities.

This year we were in Portland's Forest Park.  At over 5000 acres, with 70 miles of trails, 170 species of native fauna, 100 species of native flora, and all within 5 minutes from downtown, Forest Park is truly a local gem. We split up into teams and headed into the park to work alongside staff and volunteers from the Forest Park Conservancy and staff from the City of Portland.  The name of the game today was trail maintenance and restoration: pulling invasives, hauling rocks, shoveling gravel, digging dirt, re-sculpting the slope.

All in all it was a rewarding and productive day.  And we got to hang with some great folks from participating companies:  Keen, Columbia, REI, Merrell, Nau, Horny Toad, Icebreaker, Patagonia, Stanley

Volunteers from Merrell and Nau

Rhett and Jeff borrow dirt to rebuild the trail.  Thanks, Earth.

Serena Bishop from Conservation Alliance and Stephen Hatfield from Forest Park Conservancy
share some thoughts and give thanks.  Nice work everyone!