Obama Administration says Climate
by Rocky Barker
Calls for more studies and monitoring
The Obama Administration has issued its own salmon and dam plan for the Snake and Columbia River Thursday that says climate change has hurt the endangered fish that are a symbol of the Pacific Northwest.
The plan, a supplemental biological opinion for the Columbia and Snake River hydroelectric dams, begins a new chapter in the legal battle over the 13 stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead that has raged for more than 15 years. The new biological opinion calls for new studies and monitoring of the effects of toxic chemicals, invasive species and hatchery fish along with the rising temperatures that it said already is making life harder for salmon.
But the plan does not require federal dam managers to spill water over the dams to improve passage nor to flush water in the summer to reduce temperatures that studies show are impeding salmon migration and spawning. Most of all, it keeps breaching of the four dams on the lower Snake River as only a last resort in the event salmon populations upstream plummet.
U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland will decide whether the plan meets the requirement of the federal Endangered Species Act. But since the biological opinion will not be finalized until August, no decision is expected until after the November elections.
"What they've done here is release the old Bush plan with a new cover page," said Idaho Rivers Executive Director Bill Sedivy. "Clearly the Obama team thought salmon-dependent communities would be so dazzled by a shiny new wrapper that we wouldn't notice the lack of substance and change."
The National Marine Fisheries Service said the status of the salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake were all stable or better except for Snake River sockeye, which were listed as "mixed." The sockeye are only kept from going extinct by a costly captive breeding program.
The plan proposes to improve survival by transporting adult sockeye from Lower Granite Dam to Redfish Lake.
The federal agencies' suite of habitat restoration, dam alterations, harvest restrictions and hatchery improvement will cost $1 billion annually. In 2009, 9,609 miles of wetland habitat were protected and 244 miles of streams were reopened to fish, officials said.
The federal plan has the support of the states of Washington, Idaho and Montana and most of the Pacific Northwest tribal governments after more than two years of talks.
"The plan has been scrutinized from every angle and by every stakeholder possible -- it is the most thoroughly reviewed plan for listed species ever," said Terry Flores executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, an industry group.
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