Thursday, June 30, 2011

From the scientists who know: the future of Snake River salmon – and then some - depends on dam removal.

Last week, the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society – the nation’s oldest, largest, and well-respected association of fisheries biologists overwhelmingly (84% approval) passed a resolution affirming the importance of removing the four lower Snake River dams if we have any hope of protecting and restoring endangered wild salmon and steelhead.  Read the full resolution here.

The WDAFS has passed similar resolutions on several other occasions over the twelve years, though this is perhaps broadest in scope with more than a few whereas’s. This new resolution includes imperiled white sturgeon and critically imperiled lamprey – a highly prized cultural (e.g. food and medicine) resource by Columbia Basin Tribes. Lamprey returns last year over Lower Granite Dam were in the double digits. Not long ago, they returned to the Columbia Basin, like salmon and steelhead, in the millions.

The timing of the passage of the resolution was no accident. The scientists wanted an opportunity for the their voice to be heard before the judge rules on the adequacy of the Obama Administration’s Plan for Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead. The Western Division has recently published assessments of the 2008 Bush Plan (which they panned) and Obama’s Administration’s supplement to the Bush Plan (which they also planned). Read their review of Obama supplemental plan here.

Parties to the litigation are anxiously awaiting word from the judge and his verdict on the plan. Based on the language of the resolution, the plan clearly lacks the support of the vast majority of fisheries experts. Here are few choice excerpts:

WHEREAS many, and perhaps most, populations of wild Snake River salmon and steelhead are now extinct, and the remaining populations are currently listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act; and

WHEREAS wild Snake River salmon and steelhead have continued to decline as a result of delayed mortality from the hydropower system, despite recent improvements in ocean productivity, passage and adult returns; and

WHEREAS failure to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels puts the federal government in a position of failing to meet its Treaty Trust responsibilities; and

WHEREAS economic analyses have shown that river shippers pay only 9% of the total costs of maintaining and operating the lower Snake River navigation system (far exceeding subsidies for rail and highway freight transportation), and the remainder is subsidized by electric ratepayers and federal taxpayers; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that if society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams, and this action must be comprehensively planned and implemented, using appropriate techniques and management practices, in a timely manner.

Read the full resolution from WDAFS.

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