Feds forsake salmon recovery?again
Commentary by STEPHEN M. PAULEY
Stephen M. Pauley, M.D., a Sun Valley resident, is a former member of the board of directors for Idaho Rivers United.
It's deja vu all over again. The federal government's response to come up with a better salmon recovery plan than the one they proposed in 2000 has come full circle.
NOAA Fisheries' response last week to U.S. District Court Judge James A Redden's mandated revised 2000 Biological Opinion regresses salmon recovery right back to the 1994 BiOp, which, by the way, prompted a 1995 lawsuit by environmental groups that resulted in the 1994 revised 2000 BiOp. Both the 1994 and 2000 BiOps were found by the courts to not adequately protect the 15 stocks of endangered native Columbia-Snake River salmon.
Well heck, now NOAA Fisheries (previously called National Marine Fisheries or NMFS) said let's do it the same way a third time! Citing a few good years of salmon runs (mostly due to colder ocean conditions in the Pacific), the feds want us to believe that all their fish recovery measures are working and the four lower Snake dams pose "no jeopardy" to salmon runs.
In addition, the feds now want to postpone the announcement of the final 2000 BiOp revision until after the November elections, exactly as Clinton-Gore did in 1999, in order to win Washington?s and Oregon's electoral votes. The BiOp revision was due in May of 2004, and Judge Redden agreed to the August postponement.
The preliminary 2000 BiOp revision release says the feds are once again going to propose dam technofixes to the four lower Snake River dams as the way to go rather than consider dam removal. Their latest dam technofix proposal is the installation of "removable spillway weirs," which they contend let the smolts pass through the dams more easily (www.salmonrecovery.gov).
Their goals are to avoid spilling water over the dams that helps smolts pass downriver in a more natural way, and they want to take dam breaching permanently off the table as a solution for salmon recovery. They consider spilled water as lost hydropower dollars for the Bonneville Power Administration, and BPA is in financial trouble after the 2000 energy crises and its big debt owed on the failed WPPS nuclear project in Washington. But the Army Corps of Engineers, operators of the dams, will continue to barge smolts downriver through the dams' locks, an admission that their weir technofix is not the end-all solution. Barging smolts to the estuary has been a 24-year failure in salmon recovery.
Once again, the government has forsaken salmon recovery in the name of keeping BPA's hydropower output and revenues secure--this despite the Northwest Power Act, which mandates that power needs and fish needs receive equal consideration, and the Endangered Species Act. It will be up to Judge Redden to tell NOAA Fisheries once again that this BiOp won't fly.
Bush's "Salmon recovery" = defy the courts, delay, postpone, study to death, repeat the same mistakes, give preference to hydropower over fish passage, play election year politics, and ignore the over 200 fisheries biologists who say dam removal is the only sure way to recover endangered native (not hatchery) salmon.
Don't forget the Rand Corp. 2002 report that said four lower Snake dam removals would add 15,000 jobs to the northwest and not harm the economy of the Northwest. Power lost from dam removal (total power of the four Snake dams average 1200 MW) would be replaced through conservation efforts and one or two combined cycle gas turbine plants. Rand stressed that hydropower in drought years is unreliable and should not be a long-term solution for Northwest power needs (www.wildsalmon.org/about/RANDreview.cfm).
Typically, just as they did in the "downwind" nuclear cancer issue, Idaho's congressional delegation (Sens. Larry Craig and Crapo, and Reps. Mike Simpson and Butch Otter) and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne have remained absolutely silent. This despite the fact that wherever salmon fishing has been allowed on the Salmon River, millions of dollars have poured into Idaho's local economy. They wouldn't buck the Department of Energy at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, and they won't buck BPA.