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Ecology and salmon related articles

Administration Earns F
on Salmon Report Card

by Cat Lazaroff
Environment News Service - February 28, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC, (ENS) -- The agencies charged with implementing the federal government's plan to restore imperiled Columbia Snake Basin salmon and steelhead have dramatically failed to meet the plan's requirements in its first year, according to a study released by the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.

Fourteen Pacific Northwest populations of salmon and steelhead, like this chinook salmon, are listed as threatened (Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) The study, called the "Salmon Plan Report Card," assigns letter grades to the Administration and relevant federal agencies on their progress in the first year of the salmon recovery plan, which was approved in December 2000.

For its first year of implementation, the Administration and federal agencies responsible for salmon recovery received five failing grades and one D for the six major areas of emphasis, says Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS). Grades were assigned based on standards and timelines contained within the salmon plan itself.

The salmon plan, released as the Biological Opinion on the federal dams in the Columbia - Snake River Basin, details 199 specific measures to be implemented over 10 years to protect salmon and steelhead from the adverse impacts of the federal dam system, and restore species that have suffered dramatic losses. Of the 199 measures, 129 required action in 2001, the Salmon Plan's first year.

SOS analysts discovered through government reports, agency websites, and conversations with agency officials that only a fraction of those were actually acted upon in 2001.

Spawning salmon (Photo courtesy Cmdr. John Bortniak, NOAA Corps) "The federal government failed to implement more than 75 percent of the measures in their own plan during this first year, and lawmakers have thus far failed to secure funding to implement the plan as well," said Nicole Cordan, policy director for SOS. SOS is a coalition of conservation organizations, sport and commercial fishing associations, businesses, river groups and taxpayer advocates working to protect and restore sustainable wild runs of Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead.

"At this rate, we'll reach the first official salmon plan check in point in 2003 without having seen the federal government even try to implement its own plan," added Cordan. "It's a shell game without a pea."

The salmon plan calls for three check in points - in 2003, 2005 and 2008 - to assess whether the measures are working. If it is clear at those points that the plan is not working or has not been funded, the agencies will be forced to consider more effective measures, including partial removal of the four dams on the lower Snake River.

SOS and its member groups argue, as do many biologists, that lower Snake dam removal is a necessary component of a successful recovery plan, but the federal government to date has resisted that option. During his campaign, President George W. Bush committed to salmon recovery, but insisted it could be accomplished through technology, avoiding dam removal.

"The president pledged during his campaign to save Columbia and Snake River salmon," said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club. "During a speech in Washington State he said, 'these fish are a wonder of nature and they must be preserved.' This Report Card clearly documents the Administration's failure to keep that promise."

The salmon plan acknowledges that dam removal would provide the surest route to recovery for Snake River fish, but recommends that the dams be left in place in favor of a host of extensive and expensive alternative measures. Those measures include barging and trucking young salmon around the dams, increasing river flows using storage water from Idaho, and spilling water over the dams to aid fish passage.

A young coho salmon (Photo courtesy Earthjustice) "Dam removal should have been part of the federal government's salmon recovery plan to begin with," said Bert Bowler, a fisheries biologist with Idaho Rivers United. "But the fact that the administration failed to get anything done during the first year shows the folly of the 2000 Plan. We need leadership from the administration and the agencies responsible for saving salmon, not more excuses and promises."

Among the specific failures detailed in the Report Card's findings:

Funding in Congress and in the presidential budget for the salmon plan has been a particular focus of conservation groups. Internal documents obtained from the National Marine Fisheries Service show that the agency has estimated that implementation would have required roughly double the funding provided for the fiscal year 2002 budget and proposed for fiscal 2003.

The groups argue that the salmon plan was designed to be implemented in full, and that partial funding renders its overall strategy ineffective.

The Lower Granite Dam, one of four blocking migrating salmon on the Snake River. (Photo by Doug Thiele, two photos courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) "Everyone loses if the salmon plan fails, especially the wild fish it was designed to restore," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. "We've urged the federal government to either support its salmon plan and give it a chance to succeed or redirect its attention to actions that will."

Salmon advocates maintain that further extinctions of wild salmon still loom, and that prompt implementation of recovery measures, including some contained in the salmon plan, is vital. An unusual convergence of natural factors - such as favorable ocean conditions and good water years in the late 90s - now presents an opportunity to help beleaguered salmon and steelhead while they are on an upswing, though many biologists believe the current upswing is too low to recover wild fish.

SOS argues that the findings of the salmon plan report card demonstrate that federal fish managers and decision makers have recognized neither the urgency of protecting the fish nor the opportunity now available.

Millions of dollars are now spent trucking young salmon past the Snake River dams "By neglecting this plan now we're wasting time wild salmon don't have and squandering a rare opportunity to make real progress toward their recovery," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. "We know from the sheer numbers of fish coming back that the ocean has been good, but indications are that won't last for long. We should be seizing the opportunity to do all we can for fish now, not wasting more time and money on half measures and wait and see strategies. We may not get the chance again."

The full Salmon Plan Report Card is available at:

Cat Lazaroff
Administration Earns F on Salmon Report Card
Environment News Service, February 28, 2002

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