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Deal on Dams, Salmon Signed

by Mitch Lies
Capital Press, April 11, 2008

Though BPA and tribal officials like it, environmentalists say it falls short

Federal officials, tribal leaders and natural resource industry advocates this week lauded an agreement between tribes and the federal government for operating the Columbia River hydropower system.

The agreement unveiled April 7 calls for spending $900 million over 10 years on hatchery and habitat improvements while leaving in place hydroelectric dams.

"This is the best thing to happen to salmon in a long time," said Fidelia Andy, chair of the Fish and Wildlife Committee of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council. "The benefits to salmon are quite clear in this agreement."

"When people move from courtroom adversaries to rebuilding partnerships that recognize co-management, then I think we're on the right track," said Ron Suppah of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.

Environmentalists and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, meanwhile, said the plan falls short of protecting endangered salmon runs.

"The governor has great respect for the tribes, but he is disappointed that this plan doesn't go as far as he would like and isn't as aggressive as he would like to restore salmon runs," Kulongoski spokeswoman Anna Richter Taylor said. "More specifically, the agreement fails to address his concern about the operation of the hydrosystem dams and issues of spill and flows."

Earthjustice, which is part of a lawsuit challenging the government's management of salmon runs in the Columbia-Snake River Basin, responded to the agreement by repeating its call for the government to remove "four outdated dams on the lower Snake River" and increase spills over dams.

"While increased spill and flow and Snake River dam removal are not silver bullets, they are a necessary part of a larger plan," Bill Shake, a former assistant regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in an Earthjustice press release. Shake added, "This deal defies decades of salmon science that say salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake River Basin is not possible with habitat and hatchery programs alone."

The agreement includes a robust package of hatchery improvements, including ongoing scientific monitoring of the improvement programs.

And it includes dozens of on-the-ground habitat-improvement projects.

The plan will be funded in large part by Northwest ratepayers.

"We hope this agreement ends the unproductive debate on dam breaching and gets down to solving real, on-the-ground problems for fish," said Glenn Vanselow, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

The agreement grew out of talks started when U.S. District Judge James Redden rejected NOAA Fisheries' 2005 biological opinion. Redden at that time ordered opposing parties to sit down and try to negotiate a plan both sides could agree to.

As part of this week's agreement, the four tribes have said they will withdraw from the suit.

The tribes have long opposed the federal government's salmon recovery plans.

"We have spent decades arguing with each other," said Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration. "Today these parties are saying, 'Let's put down the sword. Let's spend more time working collaboratively to implement measures that help fish and less time litigating.'"

Tribes said the project provides long-term funding certainty that has been lacking in the past.

The agreement signifies the tribes and federal agencies "are putting aside hostilities and putting trust in one another," Andy said.

The agreement and plan are open for public comment until April 23.

Parties involved in the original suit challenging NOAA Fisheries' 2005 biological opinion are scheduled back in court May 5.

Agencies involved in the agreement include the BPA, the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Tribes involved include the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation.

Mitch Lies
Deal on Dams, Salmon Signed
Capital Press, April 11, 2008

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