Representatives of a broad-based coalition of fishing businesses and conservation groups appeared before U.S. federal district court Judge James A. Redden on Friday, expressing serious concern about the current direction of a court-mandated rewrite of the federal salmon plan for the Columbia Basin.
“Despite a history of flawed, illegal plans, and despite clear rulings from the courts to correct these problems, the federal agencies are once again headed down an all too familiar path that involves only minor changes in dam operations. That path, unfortunately, leads not to recovery for salmon, but to extinction,” said Todd True of Earthjustice, attorney for the coalition of salmon advocates. “We are simply asking the agencies to evaluate the biological benefits to salmon of several significant alternatives to current operations, not just a continuation of the failed approaches of the past.”
Last May, the court declared illegal the 2004 Federal Columbia River Power System Plan governing federal dam operations on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers, citing its failure to adequately address recovery of ESA-listed wild Snake River salmon and steelhead. The court sent the federal agencies back to the drawing board to craft a new plan with input from state and tribal fisheries experts. The federal agencies responsible for developing the new plan, including NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Army Corps of Engineers, and United States Bureau of Reclamation, as well as representatives for the plaintiffs and Columbia Basin treaty tribes, appeared in federal court Friday to report and comment on the progress of the plan rewrite.
“This court has consistently sent a strong message to the federal government that it cannot ignore the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, or manipulate the Columbia and Snake rivers in ways that fail to protect our region’s salmon,” added True of Earthjustice.
“The court decisions require the federal agencies to do a complete, credible scientific analysis and prepare a plan that complies with the law. This effort should include analysis and evaluation of all restoration options, from dam removal to more water from Idaho to increased spill and improved river conditions. That is not happening at this time. We are concerned by the agencies’ continuing refusal to consider anything more than minor tweaks to the status quo.”
Despite the court’s previous admonition that the federal agencies cannot ignore dam removal as an option for complying with salmon-protection requirements of the Endangered Species Act, according to papers filed with the court they have so far refused to analyze or consider the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River, or other significant modifications to the federal hydro system, in the latest plan.
“The federal government’s repeated attempts to keep Northwest citizens and taxpayers in the dark regarding what Snake River salmon and steelhead need to recover reflects a lack of leadership,” said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. “There is a solution that can recover healthy, fishable salmon runs, protect farmers and communities and ensure a stable, reliable Northwest energy system, and that is removing the four dams on the lower Snake River. Other proposals should be compared to dam removal, but restoring the lower Snake River is the only action shown to date to be capable of restoring healthy, fishable runs of Snake River salmon.”
Friday’s court proceedings were being watched closely by salmon fishermen and coastal communities in Oregon and California for signs of whether the Bush administration will meaningfully address the problems causing the decline of West Coast salmon stocks. As with the Columbia/Snake plan, a court also rejected the federal government’s Klamath water management plan, finding that it too failed to protect and recover salmon populations.
Declines in Columbia/Snake river salmon have shortened fishing seasons in northern Oregon, Washington and Alaska for years, while federal mismanagement of the Klamath River has led to a near shutdown of commercial salmon fishing along 700 miles of coast in Oregon and California this year.
“Events unfolding in the Portland court clearly show the government isn’t doing what’s needed to restore our west coast salmon and this is hurting real people,” said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.