by Jason Kauffman
Deals reached with Idaho and Northwest tribes provide funding for habitat work
The federal government is touting two separate agreements it has forged with Northwest Indian tribes and the state of Idaho to boost salmon runs in rivers in the Columbia River basin, including the Salmon River, shown here near Stanley. Photo by Chris Pilaro
Separate agreements reached between the federal Bonneville Power Administration and Northwest Indian tribes and the state of Idaho will not be enough to recover endangered salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River basin, environmentalists claim.
On Monday, BPA officials announced they had reached a deal with the Warm Springs, Yakima and Umatilla tribes that are the result of two years of negotiations. The deal with the BPA sets forth a series of actions that are designed to improve habitat and strengthen anadromous fish stocks in the massive Columbia River basin, which covers most of the Intermountain West and the vast majority of Idaho.
So far, the Nez Perce tribe has opted out of the deal.
Under the agreements, federal agencies involved in the Northwest salmon issue will provide approximately $900 million over 10 years to continue existing programs and to implement new priority fish projects with the tribes. Most of the funding will be provided by the BPA.
Also this week, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Wednesday announced a similar agreement has been reached that will provide an additional $65 million in funding for fish recovery projects in the state over the next 10 years. The anadromous fish projects are planned for the lower Clearwater, Potlatch, Pahsimeroi and Lemhi rivers regions.
"We celebrate this historic event and look forward to the next 10 years of stable funding," Otter said. "We spend too much time and money in the courts and not enough time out on the ground improving fish habitat.
"This is a great day for Idaho's fish and wildlife."
Of local interest is a portion of the funding that will benefit Idaho's sockeye salmon run through the development and expansion of a new hatchery that will allow for increased smolt production of the imperiled fish. Only four sockeye salmon reached their spawning grounds near Stanley in 2007.
The Idaho deal also provides for habitat acquisition and restoration to increase and protect vital spawning habitat for the state's threatened fish runs. It also provides funding to purchase water in priority areas to benefit salmon.
A component of the two deals that has drawn a quick condemnation from environmentalists is a requirement that by signing the agreements, the tribes and the state of Idaho will agree that the federal government's requirements under the Endangered Species Act,
Clean Water Act and Northwest Power Act are satisfied for the next 10 years. Not only have the parties involved promised to forgo litigation over the salmon issue as it relates to the operation of dams and water during that time period, but they also state that they will work together with the federal government to support the agreements in all appropriate venues.
According to salmon advocacy groups like Idaho Rivers United in Boise, the agreements are nothing more than the federal government trying to strengthen its hand just weeks before it's required to submit a new biological opinion for salmon recovery to U.S. District
Judge James Redden on May 5. In previous rulings, Redden slammed the federal government's proposed Northwest salmon recovery solutions as failing to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and has sent them back to the drawing boards.
Redden has suggested he may take more drastic steps to force the federal government to meet the requirements of the ESA if the new biological opinion does not adequately lay out a plan to recover Northwest salmon stocks.
Environmentalists who have viewed a draft of the new plan that will be submitted to Redden say the federal government's new biological opinion is less than adequate.
Bill Sedivy, IRU's executive director, thinks Redden will agree.
"It's not going to be enough," he said. "It's very, very weak."
Sedivy praised the Nez Perce tribe's decision to not side with the BPA.
"Once again, the Nez Perce tribe has made a courageous decision for wild Idaho salmon and steelhead," he said. "I hope they will continue to hold this line under what must be incredible pressure from BPA."
Sedivy said the deals demonstrate that the federal government and BPA are more concerned about obtaining political and legal cover for salmon extinction than actually restoring wild salmon runs. Although he praised the habitat work set out in the deals as a positive step, he said the real issue impeding true salmon recovery are the four dams on the lower Snake River that anadromous fish must cross to reach Idaho.
"The same money that BPA is spending to defend unnecessary dams would go a long way toward removing the four lower Snake River dams and replacing their benefits."
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