Federal Salmon Plan Assailedby Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - October 15, 2004
In letter to Bush, lawmakers say dam measures don't do enough to help fish
LEWISTON, Idaho -- A group of 102 Democrats and Republicans in Congress are urging the president to revise the federal government's new salmon plan, which says dams do not pose a threat to the existence of salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River.
In a letter to President Bush this week, the group outlined its concerns.
"For too long we have treated the Columbia River and its tributaries like a machine," Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said in a statement. "We can no longer enact policies that result in the status quo for the river and the fish and wildlife species that inhabit it."
The lawmakers said in the letter that the government had lowered its goal from recovery of the fish runs to merely preventing extinction.
A biological opinion recently released by the government states that dams will not threaten salmon and steelhead runs as long as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follows through on a plan to install salmon-passing weirs at each dam. The devices will cost $6 billion over the next 10 years.
The draft opinion does not ensure self-sustaining and harvestable fish populations, the letter says.
"Rather than settle for a biological opinion that redefines the problem instead of fixes it, we urge you to direct federal agencies to revise this draft to ensure significant recovery of salmon and steelhead," the letter reads.
Lawmakers who have signed the letter include Tom Petri, R-Wis., Peter De Fazio, D-Ore., Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash. The House has 435 members.
The letter also highlights the economic benefits of healthy salmon and steelhead runs.
The salmon fishing industry brings about $3 billion to Northwest communities each year, the lawmakers claim in the letter.
U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland found the government's 2000 biological opinion and salmon recovery plan to be illegal, saying officials could not reasonably assure the recovery actions they outlined would occur.
That opinion did find the dams to be a threat to the continued existence and recovery of the fish.
It outlined hundreds of measures, from hatchery reform to habitat restoration, that needed to take place to mitigate for the number of fish killed by the dams.
Although the 2000 plan did not call for breaching four dams on the lower Snake River, it did say breaching should be considered if the other measures fell short of saving the fish.
The new plan includes no breaching provisions.
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