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Conservation Leaders Call Administration's
Draft Plan "a Death Sentence for Salmon"

Press Release
American Rivers - July 27, 2000


Leaders of conservation groups today united to express deep disappointment with the Administration's draft salmon recovery plan, five years in the making, saying the plan amounts to "a death sentence for the salmon" if changes aren't made before it is finalized.

The national conservation leaders agreed that the plan to recover the wild salmon of the Pacific Northwest leaves out basic measures needed to avoid extinction, or delays them too long to work for the salmon, rendering it "just a plan for more planning" and inviting further lawsuits.

Removal of four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state to save the salmon, for example, remains only a distant option with many obstacles remaining in the way. "Dam removal is the only legally and scientifically defensible choice for salmon recovery," said Buck Parker of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "This opens the federal government up to further lawsuits, and draws other private landowners and water-users in the Basin into this fray."

An "aggressive program" of other measures short of dam removal to bring the salmon back--which federal officials promised in testimony last week--is also lacking in today's draft, which is to become a final document later in the year.

Mark Van Putten, CEO and president of the National Wildlife Federation, with 4 million members nationwide, called the draft plan as written "doomed to failure."

"This draft plan won't save salmon or help Northwestern communities," said Van Putten. "It is simply an extension of the current efforts that have failed to stop the decline of salmon. Unless we work together to improve it, this draft plan will only keep the extinction clock ticking."

"This plan is dead on arrival, just like the salmon will be, unless it requires automatic removal of the dams in 2005," said Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. Government figures show that with smart planning, 27,000 new jobs would result by bypassing the dams and replacing the benefits they provide. "The Administration had a chance to show leadership to save salmon, create new jobs, and protect existing jobs," Wodder said. "Instead they made a very narrow decision that passes up a chance to help working families while rescuing the salmon."

The central document of the plan is a draft Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) about the operation of hydropower dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, including four dams on the lower Snake in Washington state that scientists say need to be bypassed as part of any successful salmon recovery effort.

Under current conditions, the Snake River's wild spring/summer chinook salmon will likely be functionally extinct by 2017, according to a study released last year by Trout Unlimited. The study's predictions were bolstered when two of seven indicator stocks of wild Snake River salmon produced zero adults returning to spawn in 1999.

Charles Gauvin, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, said under the draft plan, dam bypass might not be completed until 2017. "The cruel irony of the draft Bi-Op is that its timeline for eventually bypassing the dams lines up perfectly with the timeline to extinction for wild Snake River spring/summer chinook," said Gauvin. "These salmon don't have time for us to tinker around for 10 years in hopes that the real cause of their decline--the four lower dams--goes away. The science is perfectly clear: Extinction of these stocks is upon us if we don't fix the hydrosystem--and soon."

Dams kill fish by delaying the migration of young salmon to the sea, and blocking adults from returning to spawn. NMFS' own studies show that delay in bypassing the four Snake dams will significantly increase the risk of extinction and will not improve the science supporting dam removal; and, that no other mix of measures--such as habitat restoration or hatchery reforms--will avoid extinction.

"The framework for salmon recovery can be found in the draft Biological Opinion," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, "but it lacks both the substance and the teeth to enforce it. The decision to take down the dams needs to be made as part of the final Biological Opinion. Sound science supports it, the American people want it, our treaty obligations commit us to it, and the courts are going to demand it."

John Adams, president of Natural Resources Defense Council, pointed out, "The administration's draft plan blatantly disregards the court's call in 1994 for a major overhaul of the hydropower system to restore salmon."

George Frampton, acting chair of the Administration's Council on Environmental Quality, claimed in prepared testimony to Congress last week that the plan would constitute an "aggressive non-breach" strategy.

"There's nothing aggressive about this plan," said Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon (S.O.S.) coalition. "The draft plan really ought to be called the 'passive, non-breach' alternative. We need a final plan that meets the needs of salmon and meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, as well as treaties with Native American tribes and Canada."

Also released today were related draft documents from other federal agencies describing reforms to hatcheries and harvest, and habitat-saving measures other than hydropower reforms. Gene Karpinski of U.S. Public Interest Research Group said that they are missing the aggressive actions needed to help bring back the Snake River's endangered salmon and steelhead, such as immediate flow improvements in Snake River tributaries, and allowing summer spillage over the dams.

"There are no tough measures at all left in this plan," Karpinski said. "If the performance measures aren't met, the only thing this draft plan would trigger is more conversation. It's a dog with no bite."

"Conserving wild salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia Basin will require a robust, holistic approach," said Paul Hansen, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. "We don't believe that the plan as proposed eliminates the necessity of dam breaching for critically imperiled Snake River stocks."

"As it is, this draft plan takes a very backwards view," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth. "It sides with the forces of extinction."

Conservation leaders hope to work with the Administration over the next several months to create a final plan that will ensure the recovery of the species.

American Rivers: Peter Kelley, 202-347-7550, Ext. 3057; 202-270-8831 cell
Defenders of Wildlife: Roni Lieberman, 202-682-9400, Ext. 266
Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund: Heather Weiner, 202-667-4500
Friends of the Earth: Shawn Cantrell, 206-235-5726 cell
Izaak Walton League of America: Ron Scott, 301-548-0150, Ext. 229
National Wildlife Federation: Linda Shotwell, 703-790-4083
Native American Rights Fund: Don Miller, 303-447-8760
Natural Resources Defense Council: Karen Garrison, 415-777-0220
Save Our Wild Salmon: Nicole Cordan, 503-703-3733 cell
Sierra Club: Bill Arthur, 206-954-9826
Trout Unlimited: Jeff Curtis, 503-827-5700; 503-351-2492 cell
U.S. Public Interest Research Group: Liz Hitchcock, 202-546-9707

Press Release
Conservation Leaders Call Administration's Draft Plan "a Death Sentence for Salmon"
American Rivers July 27, 2000

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