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Obama Administration Backs
Columbia Salmon and Dam Plan

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, September 15, 2009

Sockeye salmon (Statesman file photo) The Obama administration said Tuesday the federal government's salmon and dam plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers, with modifications, will not jeopardize endangered salmon and steelhead.

A drop in the populations of the endangered salmon and steelhead in the region would trigger a new review of the recovery efforts and a consideration of alternatives including breaching four dams on the lower Snake River. But the administration said that the so called biological opinion, "combined with the implementation plan, is legally and biologically sound and based on the best available science."

It would order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately begin to prepare a study plan to develop scope, budget and schedule of studies needed for breaching of the lower Snake River dams.

The administration said it planned to "accelerate and enhance certain mitigation actions," improve monitoring "to evaluate the effectiveness of actions and potential effects of climate change."

It also includes contingency plans so that "significant declines will set into motion specific rapid response" and "long-term contingency actions and processes."

Now it's up to U.S. District Court Judge James Redden to decide if it meets the Endangered Species Act. Oregon, the Nez Perce tribe, environmentalists, fishermen and the sporting industry have long challenged the plans in court.

"We appreciate that President Obama took the time to look at this, but we see little more than a veiled attempt to pass off the old Bush plan as a new one," said Greg Stahl, Idaho Rivers United spokesman.

The Obama administration said federal agencies have strengthened habitat restoration programs, hatchery operation changes and predator control measures, which will offset the impacts of the dams on 13 stocks of salmon and steelhead declared threatened or endangered. And triggers in the plan could increase the actions, including reducing salmon harvests authorized under other biological opinions.

"The time has come to move out of the courtroom and get to work recovering salmon and preserving the region's unique way-of-life," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. "This biological opinion, backed by sound science and tremendous state and tribal support, will help preserve the vibrancy and vitality of the Columbia and Snake River basins for generations to come."

Salmon represent what's left of the wild character of the Pacific Northwest. The fish provide the basis for sport- and commercial-fishing industries that generate more than $3 billion annually, as well as food and spiritual sustenance to American Indian people in the region.

The federal dam system provides nearly half of the electricity that powers the $400 billion economies of the four states. Barges haul millions of tons of grain and other products from Lewiston.

Glenn Vanselow, executive director of Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, which represents barging interests said he was happy with the decision. "This BiOp provides more funding, more actions, more certainty, more cooperation, and more promise for ongoing success in rebuilding fish runs than this region has ever seen."

More than 7 million acre-feet of water is stored in federal reservoirs in southern and eastern Idaho and Wyoming including Lucky Peak, Arrowrock and Anderson Ranch dams on the Boise River. The water irrigates millions of acres of farms, provides water to thousands of homes, parks, schools and recreation and resident fisheries.

Rocky Barker
Obama Administration Backs Columbia Salmon and Dam Plan
Idaho Statesman, September 15, 2009

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