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Testimony of Scott Bosse
Idaho Rivers United

9/14/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works

I would like to thank Sen. Crapo and the distinguished members of the subcommittee for inviting me to testify today. My name is Scott Bosse. I am a fisheries biologist with Idaho Rivers United, a river conservation group of nearly two thousand members from Idaho and across the Pacific Northwest that has been working on Columbia basin salmon recovery since our founding a decade ago.

I would like to address three major points in my testimony on the Administration's draft biological opinion and the Draft Basin-wide Salmon Recovery Strategy, formerly know as the All-H paper.

The first is the premise that because there are now twelve ESA-listed stocks of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia basin, any and all recovery measures must target all of these stocks at once. In other words, the idea is that we should pursue a "one-size-fits-all" salmon recovery strategy in order to get the most "bang for the buck." This goes against one of the most important things biologists know about salmon; that each individual stock is uniquely adapted to the river that produced it. That is precisely why the Endangered Species Act protects salmon at the stock level, and not at the broader species level.

Saying we should not take out the four lower Snake River dams because it would only help four out of the twelve listed stocks is akin to saying we should not clean up the air in Boise because that does nothing to improve air quality in Houston or Phoenix. It is simply another excuse for inaction.

The fact is that the four listed stocks in the Snake River basin face a very different set of hurdles than the eight listed stocks in the Columbia River. While most tributary habitat in the Columbia River has been severely degraded by logging, mining, grazing, urbanization, and agricultural development, the Snake River stocks still have available to them nearly four thousand miles of prime spawning and rearing habitat. Approximately one-third of this habitat is located within federally designated wilderness areas or Wild and Scenic River corridors. This virtually pristine habitat theoretically is capable of producing millions of wild smolts that should translate into several hundred thousand wild returning adult salmon.

The administration contends there are four Hs that must be addressed in order to develop a truly comprehensive basin-wide recovery strategy. In reality, there are only three: Habitat, Harvest, and Hatcheries. The notion that Hydro deserves its own H is false. It does not. Hydro is habitat. Hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers have drastically altered the 465 mile-long migration corridor habitat that Snake River salmon rely on to in order to deliver them to the estuary when they are smolts and back to their spawning grounds when they are adults. The dams have transformed what once was a cold, swift-flowing river into what is now a chain of warm, slackwater reservoirs in which salmon are not genetically equipped to survive.

Hydroelectric dams also have inundated 140 miles of mainstem spawning and rearing habitat for Snake River fall chinook salmon. By largely ignoring the Hydro H and trying to make up for it in the other three H's, the draft bi-op essentially writes off this stock. This shortcoming is especially problematic because it is fall chinook that are most sought after by tribal harvesters who have treaty rights that this administration has pledged to uphold.

The second major point I want to address is the draft biological opinion's strong focus on habitat restoration in upriver tributaries and the Columbia River estuary in lieu of the major overhaul in the Hydro H that Judge Marsh called for in 1994 (Idaho Department of Fish and Game v. NMFS). Mr. George Frampton, Acting Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, has estimated that expenditures on these items alone will cost taxpayers and ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year above and beyond what is already being spent.

A fair question, then, is what will this money buy in the 3,700 miles of prime spawning and rearing habitat that lies nearly empty of salmon in Idaho and northeast Oregon? What will it buy in the Middle Fork Salmon River drainage the largest wild salmon refuge left in the Columbia basin where the habitat cannot be improved upon, where there are no hatcheries, and where the spring/summer chinook that return to spawn face a combined harvest rate of less than five percent? What will a plan that does virtually nothing to overhaul the Hydro H do for these salmon stocks that are almost wholly affected by the dams?

NMFS scientists justify their focus on tributary habitat restoration by saying the best opportunity to increase population growth rates is in the salmon's first year of life. But the science shows Snake River salmon have experienced no significant decrease in egg-to-smolt survival since the construction of the lower Snake River dams. The science also shows that Snake River salmon declines have been similar in pristine and badly degraded streams; in streams with high natural fertility and those with low natural fertility.

The bottom line is NMFS has fundamentally misdiagnosed the most critical problem facing four out of the twelve listed Columbia basin salmon stocks by largely ignoring the Hydro H and trying to pin the problem on first year survival. The facts clearly do not support this assumption.

Finally, I want to point out that the remedies prescribed in the draft biological opinion are not time-sensitive for at least two of the four listed Snake River stocks (spring/summer chinook and sockeye). That is, restoring spawning and rearing habitat - even if it was the most critical factor affecting Snake River stocks - would undoubtedly take decades to produce the desired effect, when extinction models show some of these very same stocks are on a trajectory to go functionally extinct by 2017. The fact remains that the only recovery measure that is likely to restore spring and summer chinook within a timeframe that will beat the extinction clock is breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

Speaking at a July 27 press conference in Portland, Mr. Frampton was quoted as saying, "We know dam breaching is the single most effective thing we can do for these (Snake River ) stocks and that it may be necessary." I believe that in addition to being the single most effective thing we can do, dam breaching is also the only major thing we can do to actually recover Snake River stocks before the extinction clock runs out. Until the administration's draft recovery plan acknowledges that basic fact, it is a recovery plan for just eight of the twelve listed stocks, and a weak one at that. 

Scott Bosse, Idaho Rivers United
Testimony of Scott Bosse
Committee on Environment and Public, Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Works - September 14, 2000

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