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SOS Report Flunks Feds;
Agencies Dispute Findings

by CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 28, 2002

The Bush administration's implementation of the 2000 Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan received its second annual failing grade this week from Northwest environmentalists, who predicted it will flunk its mandatory third-year evaluation this September.

"Two years into the plan and on the eve of its first required check-in later this year, less than 30 percent of its required measures are being implemented," Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition, said Wednesday. "That's a dramatic failure, which must put the surest recovery option of removing the four lower Snake River dams back on the table."

Also, the administration and Congress have provided only half the $900 million per year needed to fuel the plan, and President Bush's budget for FY04 proposes the same or reduced funding, SOS said.

On specific aspects of the plan, the coalition cited failures to reduce water temperature in the lower Snake River below the recommended 68 degrees F., provide adequate river flows to help salmon migrate to the sea and improve spawning and rearing habitat.

SOS -- which includes the Sierra Club, American Rivers, National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited -- issued its second annual report card at a press conference in Washington, D.C., headlined by former Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt, who helped engineer the Clinton administration's non-breaching recovery plan.

The lack of commitment from the Bush administration "is extremely disappointing" and borders on "a tacit decision to ignore the mandates of the biological plan," said Babbitt, now an SOS consultant. "It is unlikely that this administration will go from an F to an A in the next six months."

Ford and Babbitt were joined by Justin Gould, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, whose members have met with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton and other officials over the past two years concerning the plan. "This report card exposes the Bush administration's fundamental lack of commitment to Indian tribes in the Columbia River Basin," Gould said.

Gould, a member of Nez Perce tribe, said Indian tribes would consider a lawsuit seeking to enforce fishing treaty rights if the plan continues to fall short.

But Northwest regional officials of the federal agencies that drafted the recovery plan disputed the coalition's findings and gave themselves a "B" grade for their performance. "The SOS report card is more of a fish tale than a factual summary of where we are," Lorraine Bodi, senior policy advisor for fish and wildlife with the Bonneville Power Administration, said. "We are working hard to ensure a successful ESA report from NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of our 2003 check-in later this year."

The 10-year recovery plan also set dates for formal progress reports in 2005 and 2008 and calls for adjustments or consideration of other options, including breaching, if the 12 endangered or threatened salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia Basin are not recovering.

National Marine Fisheries Service regional spokesman Brian Gorman said the cost estimates cited by SOS are based on outdated, preliminary figures. Agencies have been refining those and expect to issue a report this year.

The federal action agencies said their performance for 2003 will be better than last year. "We believe that this year's performance will be closer to 95 percent, which will be reflected in NOAA Fisheries' findings letter scheduled to be released soon," said Witt Anderson, chief of the Fish Management Office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division.

The agencies have moved to protect hundreds of miles of habitat essential to the long-term success of the recovery effort.

The agencies have completed just over two years of an ambitious 10-year effort to reverse a trend of declining salmon and steelhead runs that began over a century ago. The recent record runs have been encouraging. They spell success, not failure.

The SOWS report card assigned grades to the administration and federal agencies based on the plans 199 specific measures, standards and timelines. For major categories the report gave the government the following grades:

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and CRITFC both support removal of the lower Snake dams as a more effective and less expensive part of a recovery plan. But the Clinton administration argued for first pursuing an aggressive non-breaching strategy, and Bush campaigned in opposition to dam removal in the 2000 presidential race.

In their self-assessment this week, the federal agencies said they have made substantial progress in implementing the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 BiOp for the Federal Columbia River Power System, and in 2002 were successfully implementing 176 of 199 actions, or 88 percent, of the BiOp requirements.

"The facts speak louder than the SOS report card," they said, citing:

CBB Staff
SOS Report Flunks Feds; Agencies Dispute Findings
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 28, 2003

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