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Commentaries and editorials

Salmon Recovery Draft Plan Criticized

by Erik Barker
Lewiston Tribune, May 23, 2007

The Nez Perce Tribe and the region's largest salmon recovery group are criticizing a draft of the federal government's latest attempt to make Snake and Columbia river dams safe for threatened fish runs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation filed a draft proposal late Monday that outlines actions the government plans to take to reduce the impact of dams on salmon and steelhead. The draft still has to be analyzed by the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency in charge of protecting and recovering threatened salmon and steelhead runs.

But the tribe and fishing groups say the plan differs little from previous plans overturned by a federal judge.

"It's just disappointing after so much time to see the same plan again," said Nicole Cordan, an attorney for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition at Portland. "What is even more disturbing, after an initial glance it looks like we are taking a step backwards in what we have in place now for fish."

She said it appears the federal agencies won't increase the amount of water spilled to help juvenile fish pass the dams and might even cut some spill. Many salmon groups and tribes are pushing for the removal of the four Lower Snake River dams. But they say if the dams stay, the amount of water spilled at the dams has to be increased. Water is spilled to increase the rate of flow between the dams and reduce the time it takes for young fish to pass them on their way to the ocean.

"If we as a region decide we are not going to remove the dams there is no doubt we need flow and spill," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association.

Instead of moving toward more spill the federal government appears to be betting on habitat improvements where fish spawn and rear to push the runs toward recovery. The BPA markets federal power produced at Snake and Columbia river dams plans to increase its spending on fish habitat improvement projects. Those efforts would be concentrated in tributary streams where salmon and steelhead spawn.

According to the draft, BPA funding for habitat projects could rise from $35 million this year, next year and 2009 to as much as $45 million a year from 2010 to 2017. The agency will also continue to invest in hatchery improvements and efforts to use hatcheries to boost dwindling wild fish numbers.

Those actions could be good news to the Nez Perce Tribe that is active both in hatchery and habitat improvement projects. Samuel N. Penny, chairman of the tribe's executive committee said that commitment is welcome but not enough to help the fish.

"We are still waiting for a major overhaul of the dams themselves and we are concerned with the action agencies approach to the biological analysis," he said.

The corps, BPA and the Bureau of Reclamation that run the dams are often referred to as the action agencies. The draft they released Monday will be analyzed by NOAA fisheries. That agency will issue a biological opinion that will say if the proposed actions are enough to avoid harm to the threatened and endangered fish runs.

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are not allowed to take actions that harm protected fish, wildlife and plants. If they do harm listed species, they are required to take additional actions that make up for that harm.

Related Pages:
Council says Snake River Spring Chinook Survival Rate Improving Associated Press, September 12, 2006
Dam the Salmon, Wall Street Journal, by Shikha Dalmia, May 30, 2007

Erik Barker
Salmon Recovery Draft Plan Criticized.
Lewiston Tribune, May 23, 2007

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