It's The Ocean . . . Duh!by Bruce Lovelin, Executive Director, Columbia River Alliance
Idaho Farm Bureau News, May/June 1999
The Endangered Species Act listing of several west coast salmon populations will create additional federally imposed actions on natural resouce users throughout the Pacific Northwest. As a result of the 1992 Snake river Chinook ESA listings, the Pacific Northwest has funded a $336 million annual recovery program, the most expensive in the history of the Endangered Species Act.
If recent history is repeated, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will adopt plans which create greater impacts on the spawning, rearing and migration corridors in the freshwater segments of the salmon's life cycle. NMFS has disregarded the ocean environment, the place salmon spend most of their life -- the place the majority of the salmon die.
The Columbia River Alliance cites several studies showing a significant downturn in ocean productivity since 1977 that have caused salmon popultaions to decline uniformly from California to Washington, in both pristine and human-impacted rivers. Recent scientific reports have described a cyclical weather pattern called the "Pacific Decadal Oscillation (POD)." The POD is a weather cycle of 20 years of dry and warm conditions. Climatologists and oceanographers believe the northern Pacific entered a dry and warm period in 1977. During this period, the ocean provides less nutrients necessary for juvenile salmon survival.
Prior to 1977, smolt to adult return ratios (percentage of salmon smolt that leave the freshwater then return as adults 2 to 4 years later) was between 4 and 8 percent. In recent years, ratios have been about 0.4 percent, a 10 to 20 fold decrease. When this decrease occurs in pristine and undisturbed British Columbia river systems, you must conclude the ocean has a greater role than the National Marine Fisheries Service has acknowledged.
The Columbia River Alliance is concerned the federal government will impose greater impacts on industries that use natural resources such as hydroelectric dams, irrigation, forest products, livestock grazing and river navigation. Since 1992, Northwest economic interests have supported efforts to aid Snake River Chinook recovery at a level that exceeds any other species listed under the ESA. Before the federal government looks again to the people of the Northwest, they must explain the ocean effect, if they can.
NMFS has yet to develop a comprehensive recovery plan for Northwest salmon stocks, but used Section 7 of the ESA to prevent species "jeopardy" and curtail federal agency actions such as grazing, logging and hydro generation.
Based on eight years of experience in working with the NMFS, we believe the new salmon listings should not worry Portland and Seattle residents. However, anyone who utilizes natural resources and interacts with the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Bonneville Power Administration or other federal agencies to conduct business activities should be very concerned.
The Columbia River Alliance represents agriculture, navigation, electric utilities, forest products, communities, labor organizations, and manufacturing companies supporting science-based, economically affordable salmon recovery.
Bruce Lovelin worked for ten years at the Bonneville Power Administration in engineering, power marketing and customer service. After BPA, he was employed by the Northwest Irrigation Utilities as its executive director.
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