The Bush administration has failed again to produce a legal plan for restoring imperiled salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest despite two years of work and a clear warning from the federal courts that it cannot ignore the Endangered Species Act. The plan, released today by NOAA Fisheries, is the latest episode in a long history of failure by federal agencies to protect and restore wild salmon throughout the West, and national conservation, fishing, and taxpayer advocates are now urging Congress to step into the fray.
"The administration's plan not only deliberately ignores science, it also ignores economics and the tens of thousands of people on the West Coast who rely on these fish for their livelihoods. We need abundant, harvestable populations of salmon for long-term economic stability up and down thecoast. This administration continues to ignore, if not completely abandon, that goal," said Zeke Grader, executive director Pacific Coast Federationof Fishermen's Associations. "We have a complete disaster on the West Coast this year and this will be devastating to commercial fishermen from California to Alaska. The collapse of our fishery this year is just one more example of our desperate need for leadership. Congress must step in to ensure a future for our industry and our families."
Since 1982, federal agencies have spent more than $8 billion on salmon restoration efforts in the Columbia and Snake River Basin. Despite this multi-billion dollar investment the fish have shown no significant sign of improvement. Today's new plan has a price tag of more than half a billion dollars per year and relies on many of the failing technologies and risky measures included in previous plans. It does not evaluate all options for restoring salmon in the basin including partial removal of the four Lower Snake River dams."The administration's new plan ignores fiscally and scientifically sound options. So instead of fish recovery, taxpayers are facing billions more in wasted federal dollars," said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "
Congress should immediately launch independent studies to help steer us out of this train wreck and ensure that taxpayer dollars are being invested wisely."Three of the last four federal plans for Columbia and Snake River salmon have been found inadequate and illegal in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland soundly rejected the federal government's 2004 salmon plan and raised serious concerns about the draft biological opinion last October. The judge indicated that "serious consequences" for federal hydro-system operations would follow if federal administrators don't submit a new plan in May that follows the law and satisfactorily addresses the needs of salmon.
"This plan paves the way to extinction for salmon," Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said. "This won't help the fish that continue to disappear from western rivers and oceans, the fishermen who have lost their jobs, the communities that are suffering, or American taxpayers whose salmon recovery dollars are being wasted. We need a better solution."
The new plan comes at a crucial time for West Coast salmon, as the Pacific Fishery Management Council decided in April to shut down the chinook salmon fishing season off the Oregon and California coasts because of the collapse of the Sacramento River salmon fishery. Washington's coastal fishing season is also severely restricted."The 2008 total shut down of our salmon fishery, though necessary, is devastating to the entire West Coast fishing fleet," Monterey Fish Market founder Paul Johnson said. "By pushing salmon to extinction, we are losing much more than a fish — we are losing a healthy food source, a culture, and a way of life. What we really need is our congressional leaders to demandand implement a solid salmon recovery plan for all our rivers. Right now.Today. Not next year. This plan is nowhere near that."
The federal government has consistently relegated the needs of salmon-dependent communities to second-class citizen status not only in the Columbia and Snake, but also in the other major West Coast salmon-producing rivers — the Klamath and Sacramento. Federal courts have found the administration to be in violation of the Endangered Species Act in all three river systems. Across the West Coast salmon suffer primarily fromman-made changes, as well as this administration's failure to develop balanced river management plans that follow the science and obey the law.
"Three years ago, this administration came up with a salmon strategy based on the ridiculous premise that man-made dams are a permanent part of the natural environment and exempt from the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. The courts threw out that plan and sent it back to the drawing board, in part because the administration refused to consider major changes to the dams," Earthjustice CEO Trip Van Noppen said. "Based on what we're seeing today, the agencies didn't get the message — or chose to ignore it. Once you get past the bells and whistles, it's clear this plan is about little more than protecting the status quo, regardless of the harm the damsdo to salmon and the communities that depend upon them."
The new Columbia-Snake River Salmon Plan, released today by NOAA Fisheries, largely mirrors the draft biological opinion submitted last fall. It is the result of a court-ordered rewrite of the 2004 federal salmon plan that was ruled illegal by Judge Redden, a decision later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
"The Bush administration has failed again and again to come up with a plan that recovers salmon and helps the Pacific Northwest's fishing and farming communities," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "It is time for congressional leaders to acknowledge that removing the four lower Snake dams needs to be on the table, and to bring communities together in a dialogue about the best way to restore a healthy river, invest in clean energy, and create a strong economic future.
"The new plan, which would guide salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia and Snake River Basin for the next decade, includes provisions for habitat restoration, hatchery production, and predator control, but it calls for no significant changes to the region's federal hydrosystem and ignores the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to the basin's endangered salmon. In fact, the plan calls for cutting several key salmon protection measures, despite well-documented success of such court-ordered improvements in recent years.
"The Columbia-Snake Basin biological opinion can recover upriver salmon or it can oversee their extinction," said Trout Unlimited President and CEO, Charles Gauvin. "Recovering salmon requires that we work together to find ways to make communities dependent on dams economically secure, and just as certainly we must remove the lower Snake dams to secure the future for salmon. Both must go hand-in-hand."
"We're losing this magnificent national treasure, " said LarrySchweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "Congress must step in to stop the administration from pushing science aside when making decisions that impact America's natural heritage. We need a critical, impartial review of current salmon recovery policies and an honest evaluation of all scientifically credible options, including lower Snake River dam removal, so that we can move forward with solutions that will recover salmon and protect the communities that depend upon them."
Emily Nuchols, email@example.com, 206.286.4455 ext. 106
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.