Conservationists Reject Salmon Planby Associated Press
Times-News, September 10, 2004
BOISE -- Conservationists on Thursday rejected the federal government's draft plan for salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin, which leaves out the prospect of breaching four lower Snake River dams.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Fisheries and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month announced the main conclusions from the draft document, which was released Thursday.
It says the gauntlet of dams from the Pacific Ocean to Idaho poses no jeopardy for salmon and steelhead trout, which have been on the endangered species list for years. It also suggests installing removable "weirs" or gates that provide safer passage through the dams when fish are migrating.
"This no-jeopardy opinion is a giant step backward for salmon recovery," said Bill Sedivy, executive director for Idaho Rivers United.
"Instead of relying on sound science, the government relies on a new and legally questionable interpretation of the Endangered Species Act -- and the crazy notion that the lower Snake River dams are part of the 'natural river' environment -- to justify backtracking on recovery standards in this plan," he said.
Last May, U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered NOAA Fisheries to rewrite its recovery plan, known as a biological opinion, after ruling that the existing document violated the Endangered Species Act.
Idaho Rivers and other groups said the draft only considers saving the fish from extinction, rather than bringing them back to harvestable, self-sustaining numbers. They contend the only way to accomplish that is to breach the four lower Snake River dams in Washington state.
A water users group, meanwhile, suggests releasing hatchery salmon and steelhead above the Hells Canyon dam complex for anglers along the Boise and Payette rivers.
Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association representing farmers and industry, said the releases would provide angling opportunities in southwestern Idaho.
"In contrast, environmental groups are clearly using the idea of salmon fishing above Hells Canyon as the bait on a fish passage hook that ultimately leads to their stated goal: removal or major, radical modification of the trio of dams in the Hells Canyon complex," Semanko said.
His group and five environmental organizations, including Idaho Rivers, have warred over operations of upper Snake River dams in eastern Idaho. The conservationists earlier asked Redden to require federal fish managers to consider the impact of the upper Snake on the fish runs downriver.
Semanko contends Snake River water above Hells Canyon has nothing to do with the fish runs below. He warns a federal ruling to the contrary could dry up hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland in Idaho.
"The idea of releasing excess hatchery-produced salmon in places like the Boise River may not be a bad idea when we have excess fish," Sedivy said. "Stocking the river with these excess fish is a long way from restoring river health."
Sedivy said his group does not advocate destroying Hells Canyon dams, but calls for operational changes. Warm water from those dams harms fish runs all the way to Washington state, he said.
Erratic flows caused by raising and dropping the Snake River in the canyon for electrical demand also erase sand bars.
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