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Latest Salmon Recovery Plan a Sinker

by Rebecca Clarren
High Country News, May 6, 2008

In a stunning display of passive aggressive behavior the federal government has once again failed to propose a plan that will recover thirteen species of endangered Northwest salmon. Since 1994, environmental groups, tribes and the state of Oregon have complained that three different NOAA Fisheries proposals, called Biological Opinions, for salmon recovery violate the Endangered Species Act. The feds have gone so far as to claim that the dams are part of the natural landscape, akin to say a mountain, and therefore the fact that they kill tens of thousands of salmon each year, can't be mitigated.

The latest biological opinion, released yesterday, once again fails to comprehensively consider the impact of the dams. Instead of doing what salmon defenders say would be the most effective and best move to help the struggling fish: remove four dams along the Snake River, the $75 million a year plan would make $500 million in capital improvements to the system's 14 dams over 10 years, and boost rates for hydropower generation by the dams by up to 4 percent, reports the Oregonian.

While it would also improve habitat and place additional limits on both the commercial and sports fisheries, which could help the fish, it simultaneously reduces flow and the spill of water over the dams, which has been proven to increase mortality rates by sending juvenile fish through the dams turbines.

Environmental groups and the state of Oregon plan to sue over the plan, sending this proposal to federal Judge James Redden, who has in the past show little patience for the feds' former efforts. The judge has hinted that he might place severe limits on dam operations if this third plan doesn't float his boat.

The Columbia and Snake Rivers are domesticated places, engineered with the false promise that it's possible to produce power for Northwest irrigators and the public and bring back endangered salmon from the brink of extinction. It's true that cheap hydropower is great for our region, but the Endangered Species Act can't be denied. Enough is enough. We've already spent billions on salmon recovery efforts with limited results – the fishery closures along the West Coast this year and calls for disaster relief funds for fishing families remind us of this.

"This new plan is not a credible approach to the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead," writes Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski in an Oregonian editorial today. "If Oregon doesn't stand up for our wild salmon and steelhead, who will? It is our natural heritage. It is the right thing to do."

Rebecca Clarren
Latest Salmon Recovery Plan a Sinker
High Country News, May 6, 2008

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