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Feds Push for Salmon Recovery

by Erin Mills
The East Oregonian, September 16, 2009

Plan includes: habitat, harvest activities, hatchery production, hydropower operations

The Obama adminstration announced it will largely continue the Bush administration's plans for salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin, with the addition of an "insurance policy" for the fish that could include breaching dams on the Snake River.

Federal agencies have been reviewing the Bush administration's plan to manage the network of hydroelectric dams on the river, known as the 2008 Biological Opinion, for the past five months. The review was in response to litigation by several parties, including the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, that claimed the plan was inadequate to recover the basin's 13 endangered species of salmon and steelhead.

The new amendment - called the adaptive management implementation plan - addresses the concerns the litigating parties raised and provides a roadmap in the case of a dramatic drop in salmon numbers, said Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lubchenco and other regional federal executives announced their plan during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.

"We believe the time has come to move out of the courtroom and get to work recovering the salmon and preserving the region's unique way of life," Lubchenco said.

Although the 2008 Biological Opinion was "biologically and legally sound," they said, the adaptive management plan was necessary to address uncertainties, such as climate change, that could affect the salmon.

The plan contains rapid response actions, such as increased predator controls or "safety net" hatcheries, and also long-term actions in the four "H's" of salmon recovery: habitat, harvest activities, hatchery production and hydropower operations.

A drop in salmon numbers would trigger those responses, but the plan also includes greater monitoring of salmon numbers and habitat.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the Bonneville Power Adminstration, said that the BPA is committing millions more dollars for salmon protection to comply with the 2008 Biological Opinion and the new amendment.

The dams will be fine-tuning their spills to better serve salmon, he said, and increasing salmon research.

Federal agencies, including the BPA, will be meeting today with the governor of Washington to commit $40 million to improvements of the estuary near Astoria, an important salmon nursery, he said.

To pay for the salmon recovery efforts, BPA will raise its wholesale power rates - the rate it charges local utility districts - 6.95 percent on Oct. 1.

The BPA also will help pay for a new NOAA study on the life cycle of salmon and the different factors that affect their survival.

"It's a tool that would help you clearly understand how the dams affect fish and what the tradeoffs might be, biologically speaking, of having dams in or dams out," Milstein said.

Federal executives said dam breaching was still on the table, but would be used as a last resort.

Several Northwest tribes, including those of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, effectively signed on to the government's salmon plan at the Columbia Basin Fish Accords in May of 2008.

Under the agreement, the federal agencies and the tribes pledged to work together "on the ground" to improve salmon recovery efforts.

"While unanimity has not been achieved, we believe the breadth of regional consensus is unprecedented here," said Laura Davis, assistant deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for NOAA, said United States District Judge James Redden must still approve the final plan.

"We're essentially saying to the court, 'Your honor, this is it,'" he said. "We're done with the collaborative process, the administration has reviewed the BioOp, here is the improved plan - have at it."

Erin Mills
Feds Push for Salmon Recovery
The East Oregonian, September 16, 2009

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