The False Choice
by Liz Hamilton
The Oregonian's recent editorial on the Columbia-Snake salmon debate ("Fresh eyes, fragile deal on Columbia salmon," May 26) unfortunately presents the Northwest with a false choice.
The editorial board has been quick to support the settlement agreement between the Bonneville Power Administration and four lower Columbia River tribes and to suggest that changes to the current Columbia-Snake salmon plan or biological opinion would unravel the BPA's agreements.
To be clear: The sportfishing industry and our allies support the continued funding of the projects identified in these agreements. But we disagree that the changes necessary to make the federal salmon plan scientifically and legally sound would unravel these accords. The projects within these plans should continue, but the science is clear that these undertakings alone will not recover endangered Columbia River salmon -- in part because only half of the funds in the agreements are directed toward boosting endangered salmon and steelhead populations.
This is not -- and should not be cast as -- an either/or question. Salmon need both. We need to fund habitat improvements and tribal hatchery projects in the basin, and we need a scientifically credible and legal biological opinion. The goal is not to end the ongoing litigation. The goal is recovery of endangered salmon and all that they represent to our Northwest way of life -- jobs, tribal and non-tribal culture, and the health of our rivers.
All this is at risk if we do not deliver a durable and long-lasting solution to the ongoing salmon crisis -- a solution that protects that Northwest way of life, ends uncertainty and conflict, puts folks back to work and results in a clean-energy future.
To reach that solution, the new administration will need to build a table that includes all stakeholders and that considers all scientifically credible options, including the removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Since the hydroelectric system is responsible for killing the majority of the salmon in the Columbia Basin, it's only common sense that some fundamental changes to river operations will be a necessary part of legitimate deliberations.
Much of the current plan ignores the best available salmon science. For example, the plan rolls back the court-ordered protections that fishermen and fishing businesses fought so hard to put into place. It ignores the science of state, federal and tribal fishery biologists, and it redefines the jeopardy standard of the Endangered Species Act, weakening the core values of the law. If upheld, the radically weakened standard for salmon will eventually apply to every endangered wildlife species in our nation. It's not surprising that U.S. District Judge James Redden's guidance to the parties in the case highlights these same concerns and more. The plan is scientifically and legally inadequate.
The Obama administration has an opportunity to protect and restore one of this nation's most important natural resources: wild Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead. We don't need to pit tribes against non-tribal fishermen. We can continue the tribal projects agreed to in the regional settlement discussions, and we can craft a scientifically sound and legally supportable salmon plan.
We can and we must do both.
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