NOAA's Latest Northwest Plan
by Colleen Luccioli, Land Letter reporter
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a final plan intended to boost Pacific Northwest salmon stocks, but the plan is being heavily criticized, with many groups hoping Congress or the courts will weigh in and amend the plan.
"The administration's plan not only deliberately ignores science, it ignores economics and the tens of thousands of people on the West Coast who rely on these fish for their livelihoods," said Zeke Grader, executive director Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "We have a complete disaster on the West Coast this year and this will be devastating to commercial fishermen from California to Alaska. The collapse of our fishery this year is just one more example of our desperate need for leadership. Congress must step in to ensure a future for our industry and our families."
"The administration's new plan ignores fiscally and scientifically sound options. So instead of fish recovery, taxpayers are facing billions more in wasted federal dollars," said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Congress should immediately launch independent studies to help steer us out of this train wreck and ensure that taxpayer dollars are being invested wisely."
"This plan paves the way to extinction for salmon," said Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope. "This won't help the fish that continue to disappear from Western rivers and oceans, the fishermen who have lost their jobs, the communities that are suffering or, or American taxpayers whose salmon recovery dollars are being wasted. We need a better solution."
On Monday, NOAA released its final federal biological opinion, considered a critical component to the federal salmon restoration efforts, in response to a court order. The biological opinion is NOAA's fifth take on the matter; all four previous biological opinions have been struck down in the courts on the grounds that the salmon recovery requirements set out by the Endangered Species Act would not be met.
With a lawsuit over NOAA's plan expected, the latest version is expected to come before U.S. District Judge James Redden also.
But Bob Lohn, head of NOAA's Fisheries Service's Northwest region, based in Seattle, defended the plan. "These biological opinions not only meet the law's requirement to protect fish, they also improve the prospects for recovery. In these opinions, we've taken a close look at all of the major factors -- the hydro system, habitat, hatcheries and harvest -- and are making sure that they're all working toward heathy salmon runs," he said.
The federal government's plan hinges on the so-called Columbia Basin Fish Accords, a $900 million deal brokered between federal agencies and four tribes and finalized earlier this month. Proponents of the plan claim it will provide specific, scientifically valid biological results for the region's fish.
"These accords move the focus away from gavel-to-gavel management and toward gravel-to-gravel management," said Steve Wright, Bonneville Power Administration administrator. "By putting litigation behind us and putting actions to help fish in front of us, we will better ensure that Columbia Basin fish will benefit."
Under these agreements, the federal agencies and tribes will work together as partners "on the ground" to provide tangible survival benefits for salmon recovery -- by upgrading passage over federal dams, by restoring river and estuary habitat, and by creative use of hatcheries, BPA says.
Dams stay put
But critics claim the biggest failure of the plan is that it does not call for removal of dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers, said, "It is time for congressional leaders to acknowledge that removing the four lower Snake dams needs to be on the table, and to bring communities together in a dialogue about the best way to restore a healthy river, invest in clean energy, and create a strong economic future."
Trout Unlimited President and Chief Executive Charles Gauvin, agreed, "Recovering salmon requires that we work together to find ways to make communities dependent on dams economically secure, and just as certainly we must remove the lower Snake dams to secure the future for salmon. Both must go hand-in-hand."
Larry Schweiger, president and CEO National Wildlife Federation, also said, "Congress must step in to stop the administration from pushing science aside when making decisions that impact America's natural heritage. We need a critical, impartial review of current salmon recovery policies and an honest evaluation of all scientifically credible options, including Lower Snake River dam removal, so that we can move forward with solutions that will recover salmon and protect the communities that depend upon them."
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