Salmon Blueprint Mindful of Montanaby Brig. Gen. William E. Rapp
The Missoulian, September 21, 2009
Respectful of input from the state of Montana and its tribes, the Obama administration last week strengthened a far-reaching 2008 federal blueprint for protecting salmon across the Columbia River Basin.
The blueprint, called a biological opinion, may be most widely known for its role in protecting salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act. And it is consistent with the biological opinion that provides protection for two listed species important to Montana: white sturgeon and bull trout.
Bull trout are affected by the operation of Libby and Hungry Horse reservoirs in western Montana, and Libby also affects sturgeon. These Montana fish rely on much of the same water that also aids salmon and steelhead far downstream on the Columbia.
The plan strikes a balance between resident Montana fish, both listed and unlisted, and downriver salmon - one developed through years of collaborative discussions between biologists and others throughout the region. Support from the administration follows a thorough scientific review and maintains that balance, with the role of the dams in flood control and generation of clean hydroelectric power.
It's also a strong vote of confidence for the solid regional cooperation that the plan represents. In the case of salmon, the administration strengthened the biological opinion with contingency measures that would quickly take effect in the event of unexpected population declines. It includes clear and measurable standards to ensure that more fish pass safely through dams - and that more will survive and thrive in the Columbia River estuary and spawning streams.
The study of breaching one or more of the federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River is included in the strengthened plan, but only as an option of last resort. The plan specifies when and how we would examine that option, with science as our guide.
Saving salmon will take hundreds of actions by many players across the region, and a key strength of the current blueprint resides in its broad support from a majority of the region's tribes and states, including Montana.
An overhaul of dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers in the last decade has reduced their impact on protected salmon, and dam operations in Montana have helped replicate the historic fluctuations of a natural river that native fish need.
Our goal is now to focus even more work on the fish and the rivers rather than in the courtroom, where we have spent many years already.
Fortunately, Montana is a leader in seeking a collaborative solution, recognizing that through collaboration it's possible to protect not only Montana's own native fish but also salmon and steelhead hundreds of miles away.
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