Another Flawed Plan to Protect Salmon
by Ted Kulongoski
The Oregonian, October 9, 2009
"The state of Oregon has a long legacy of protecting our wild fish for future generations
so they remain a vital part of our heritage, and this is a legacy worth fighting for."
I wrote the above words more than a year ago when the federal government presented its 2008 biological opinion regarding a salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake Rivers' hydropower system. I believed the 2008 plan, like the many plans before it, was legally and technically flawed because it sought to preserve status-quo dam operations at the expense of endangered wild fish. And, as with the previous plans, I challenged it in federal court.
The Obama administration recently filed a supplement to the 2008 biological opinion called the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan. After reviewing the plan, the question remains: Does this supplement actually correct the legal and scientific deficiencies in the 2008 opinion? We were initially encouraged by the administration's admission that the 2008 opinion relied on overly optimistic assumptions and that correcting this flaw required more robust actions, better tracking of fish to gauge success, and clear triggers for ready-to-implement contingencies. Oregon has consistently advocated these same steps.
Regrettably, the new management implementation plan fails to address the key deficiencies in the 2008 biological opinion. For example, the new plan has no new actions to improve dam operations, and in fact allows for reductions in key flow and spill measures ordered by the federal court that helped produce the recent modest upswing in fish survival. In addition, the new plan's triggers are set so that fish numbers could decline to near extinction before additional actions are triggered. If such dramatic decreases in fish runs are acceptable in this plan, how can it put us on a path to healthy wild salmon populations?
Like the new administration, I believe breaching the lower Snake River dams must be on the table. Where we differ is our views of what it means to do everything possible to improve the condition of wild fish before resorting to dam breaching. Where the new plan proposes only to begin studying dam removal if the plan fails, I now believe that we must commit to a more aggressive approach in which we actually begin dam removal if fish are not on a clear path to recovery within 10 years.
Oregon provided the court a detailed response Wednesday identifying the significant flaws in the new management implementation plan. As always, Oregon stands ready to offer specific actions that will ensure our wild salmon and steelhead are truly protected and put on a course toward viable and sustainable populations. Our recommendations will not significantly curtail power production nor drive up power costs for customers. Compared to the approximately $1 billion the federal government has committed to non-dam-related actions, such as hatchery improvements and habitat work, we believe that, dollar for dollar, making the hydro system less harmful to fish is a far better investment, with guaranteed returns.
We'd rather not litigate to create this solution. We'd rather bring all parties -- Oregon, the other plaintiffs and the federal government -- to the table to create this solution. Unfortunately, the federal government may need to hear a judge's decision before abandoning the status quo to truly help our fish and the communities that depend on them. I, for one, believe Oregon's communities and salmon heritage are well worth the fight.
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