Over 100 House Members Sign Salmon Recovery Letter to Bushby CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - October 17, 2003
More than 100 members of Congress are urging the Bush administration to study the option of Snake River dam removal before adopting a new Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan.
"We urge that all scientifically credible options -- including modified versions of present policies, partial removal of the four dams on the lower Snake River, acquisition of significant additional water for flow augmentation from Idaho and Canada and any other alternative recommended by your agencies or developed within the region -- be considered," an Oct. 10 letter to Bush signed by 118 House members said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies are re-evaluating the science and recovery measures of the 2000 recovery plan, which U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland ruled in May violated the Endangered Species Act. Until a new plan is adopted, Redden agreed to keep the current plan in force for one year.
In their letter, the House members, led by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said the judge's ruling means the administration is faced with developing a plan that is scientifically and economically viable and "not only protects but (also) restores salmon to self-sustaining, harvestable populations." In addition to the Endangered Species Act, the plan must also meet treaty obligations to Northwest Indian tribes and Canada, they said.
"This letter should send a strong message to President Bush that the federal government needs to be a full partner on the issue of salmon recovery," while keeping "all reasonable options on the table," Blumenauer said.
The letter was released on Tuesday by Blumenauer's office and environmental groups that advocate removal of the Snake dams. But the letter signers did not endorse the breaching option, which was studied by the Clinton administration in developing the 2000 plan and opposed by Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign.
Dam removal "might be the best option," Blumenauer's acting press secretary Meeky Blizzard said. "The point is we don't know, and there's not enough data to know yet, so we want to make sure that's not discarded by the Bush administration out of hand."
Blizzard said Blumenauer is concerned the administration is taking a narrow focus in revising the plan and not looking holistically at the Columbia Basin, including estuary habitat, the Columbia and Snake dams and water augmentation from upstream.
"Without prompt and impartial consideration of all scientifically credible and economically viable alternatives for the recovery of salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers, we risk the loss of additional investments and one of the nation's greatest national treasures, the wild salmon of the Pacific Northwest," the missive to Bush said.
Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Taxpayers for Common Sense praised the House letter.
Blizzard said the letter was prompted by the court case. But it also takes issue with claims made by Bush during an August appearance at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River that federal actions have resulted in record numbers of returns of adult salmon.
"We have spent more than $3.3 billion in federal taxpayer and Northwest ratepayer dollars trying to mitigate the impacts of the federal Columbia Snake hydropower system on our nation's salmon resources. (Yet) we do not yet have data to conclude that these efforts are successful and cost effective in saving salmon," the letter said.
"We cannot continue to rely simply on Mother Nature -- the exceptional ocean conditions and water years that are primarily responsible for recent relatively strong salmon runs - to protect and restore these fish."
All five signers from the Pacific Northwest region were Democrats: Blumenauer and David Wu, both of Oregon, and Adam Smith, Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott of Washington. McDermott is the author of a bill that would require federal agencies to conduct other studies and take steps in case breaching the Snake River dams becomes necessary to save salmon runs.
Of the letter signers, 12 were Republicans, included Reps. Christopher Shays, Conn., Sherwood Boehlert, N.Y., James Leach, Iowa, James Sensenbrenner, Wisc., and Christopher Smith, N.J.
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