Newest Recovery Plan
by Michael Milstein
Columbia River - The blueprint is no different from earlier ones, tribes and environmentalists say
The federal government this week outlined how it hopes to restore troubled Columbia River salmon, but fishermen and environmental groups said the new plan is no better than earlier ones that judges threw out.
Even tribes, whom the government worked with on the plan, said they were disappointed. The Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho said the blueprint does not correct the operations of hydroelectric dams that do the most harm to salmon.
It does not consider breaching dams on the Lower Snake River to help salmon get past, a move that salmon advocates want but President Bush pledged would not happen.
Instead, the government approach relies heavily on earlier strategies such as barging young fish past dams so they don't swim through turbines that often kill them. It promises more control of predators such as sea lions and terns and more money to restore fish habitat along rivers and streams.
The real test of the new proposal will come from U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland, who rejected the government's last attempt, hammering federal agencies for failing to do enough to help protected salmon. He ordered the agencies to go back and redo it and said he will not tolerate another botched attempt.
He has hinted at severe limits on dam operations if the government fails again.
Redden has his next meeting with lawyers in the case June 20, although he is unlikely to pass immediate judgment on the proposal.
Wild salmon have declined to about 5 percent of their historic numbers in the Northwest, with some stocks nearing extinction. A panel of scientists said separately this week that global warming will eliminate about 40 percent of salmon habitat in Oregon by 2090 because the water will turn too hot for the fish to survive.
The government's new proposal, posted at www.salmonrecovery.gov, calls for manipulating dam operations to more closely mimic the natural river systems salmon evolved with. It also promises steps to make sure salmon raised at fish hatcheries do not interfere with the recovery of wild fish and aims to focus fishing pressure on hatchery salmon rather than imperiled wild salmon.
The government said it's working on new equipment at dams so that at least 95 percent of young salmon survive as they migrate past in the spring, along with 93 percent of summer salmon.
But fish advocates said they have heard similar promises before.
"We are on a stay-the-course plan when I think everybody was expecting a change in direction," said Todd True of Earthjustice, an attorney representing environmental and fishing groups.
The decline of salmon has economic consequences, said Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. Fishing seasons have been cut back to protect wild salmon, hurting the business of fishing guides and equipment suppliers.
Anglers made 175,000 trips in pursuit of spring chinook on the Columbia River in 2001 but only 70,000 this year, she said.
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