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Bipartisan Letter Tackles Salmon Plan

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 14, 2004

102 congressmen ask President Bush to revise latest recovery blueprint

More than 100 congressmen are lining up against the federal government's new salmon plan that says dams do not pose a threat to the existence of salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River.

A group of 102 Democrats and Republicans are urging President George Bush to revise the plan. They sent a letter to the president Wednesday outlining their concerns.

"For too long we have treated the Columbia River and its tributaries like a machine," said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., in a press release. "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 government recently released a new biological opinion on the federal hydropower system that says the dams will not threaten salmon and steelhead runs if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follows through on a new plan to install salmon-passing weirs at each dam. The devices will cost $6 billion over the next 10 years.

But critics are incredulous that the government now says the dams do not threaten the existence of salmon and steelhead runs listed under the Endangered Species Act. They also say the government has lowered the bar from recovery of the runs to merely preventing extinction.

"The new draft biological opinion does not ensure self-sustaining harvestable populations by relying on legal technicalities to justify not having to fully mitigate for the operations of the hydropower system," 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."

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.

According to the lawmakers, the salmon fishing industry employs 36,000 people up and down the West Coast and inland to Idaho and brings some $3 billion to Northwest communities each year.

Judge Michael Redden of Portland, Ore., 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.

Eric Barker
Bipartisan Letter Tackles Salmon Plan
Lewiston Tribune, October 14, 2004

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