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Salmon Plan Lays an Egg

by Jeff Morton
The News Tribune, December 12, 2004

Environmental view: New proposal fails to meet needs for recovery, abundance

Although it was released just a few days after Thanksgiving, the new federal salmon plan for the Columbia basin offers little reason for fishermen to be thankful.

Twelve years after Snake River populations were recognized as the Pacific Coast’s first endangered salmon, this latest plan turns science on its head, abandoning salmon recovery, taxpayer concerns and the interests of our region’s valuable fishing economy and culture.

Three words we need to remember: Extinction is forever.

In the Northwest, people have been catching and eating salmon for thousands of years. Salmon runs and recreational fishing have both been hallmarks of our special place on this Earth.

Despite severe declines in many salmon populations, the sportfishing industry still generates more than $3.6 billion of economic output annually and supports more than 36,500 family-wage jobs in manufacturing, sales and services.

My fishing community has worked hard in recent decades as responsible stewards – to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But the government needs to pull its weight as well.

Two years ago, a judge ruled that the federal Columbia and Snake River salmon plan was inadequate and ordered that the administration rewrite it. Our hopes for an effective, fiscally responsible plan were dashed last week with the release of an even worse plan that abandons recovery and with it a brighter future for my business and for many other members of our region’s fishing economy.

The final plan varies little from the draft version, which has been widely criticized this fall by more than 100 members of Congress, 250 scientists, Northwest tribes and the multistate Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Along with more than 450 fellow business owners, I sent a letter to Congress calling for leadership to salvage this sinking ship. More than 100 other Washington state fishing and recreation-based businesses signed on, including Sage Manufacturing, Montrail, Helly Hansen and Cascade Designs.

The new plan declares that Columbia River and Snake River dams, which may kill up to 90 percent of some endangered runs, suddenly no longer “jeopardize” salmon survival. As a result, this plan attempts to end even the discussion of removing any dams, the No. 1 cause of salmon’s decline in the basin. The president made promises to restore salmon, but this plan pretends no such thing.

Letting the federal dams off the hook is problematic in that it further shifts the burden to other “non-dam” impacts on salmon survival. Fishermen and the businesses that supply and service them have already experienced dramatic reductions, including losing over 10,000 jobs due to salmon declines. This plan guarantees we will see more.

Second, ignoring dams means forsaking recovery. All remaining Snake River salmon and steelhead runs are in danger of extinction. Just 26 sockeye, for example, returned to Idaho last summer. It is a run already on life-support. This plan declares that as long as federal dams don’t increase the rate at which salmon are already declining, there is nothing more to do.

We find this a shabby and inadequate answer to a region whose citizens are committed and invested in salmon recovery and salmon abundance.

Finally, this new plan means another expensive boondoggle for taxpayers. Ignoring science when crafting policy wastes money – lots of it. The chief administrator for the Bonneville Power Administration measures the plan’s effectiveness by its cost – rather than its ability to recover salmon – citing the fact that the plan’s implementation would reflect a federal commitment of $6 billion over the next 10 years.

Six billion dollars over 10 years to continue salmon on their path to extinction? There must be a better way.

And there is. The proposed Salmon Planning Act would take a fresh and overdue look at an old and persistent problem. It would give our region and our national leaders the independent economic and scientific information necessary to develop a cost-effective, scientifically credible federal salmon recovery plan that can work for our region.

Salmon and fishing advocates look to elected leaders such as U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) and other members of Congress to wisely invest our taxpayer dollars on policies based on sound economics and science. Restoring salmon and rebuilding our salmon economy while protecting taxpayers – now that would make quite a Christmas present.

Jeff Morton is president of Morton & Associates of Puyallup, a sales representative for many large national fishing-tackle manufacturers. He is also a board member of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.
Salmon Plan Lays an Egg
The News Tribune, December 12, 2004

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