by Rob Manning
"Quite frankly, all of their discussion about triggers is aimed at detecting if there's a catastrophic failure of the plan. There's actually no attention paid to whether the plan is actually succeeding - which, of course, is the most important question."
Portland, OR -- The Obama Administration had its first chance to part ways with the past policies of the Bush Adminstration to manage threatened salmon.
But a new plan, put forward Tuesday met with criticism from both environmental and business groups. Rob Manning reports on the plan - and what people don't like about it.
Since becoming the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, former Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco has been knee-deep in research and legal arguments involving Columbia and Snake River salmon.
The big question facing Lubchenco, and NOAA scientists, was whether the Bush-era 2008 salmon plan - called a Biological Opinion - would save the 13 stocks of threatened salmon and steelhead from extinction.
Her conclusion? Yes - but it needs a little help.
Jane Lubchenco: "The administration has developed what we're calling an insurance policy for the fish. Key to this insurance plan are contingency measures that would be implemented in case of a significant decline in fish abundance."
The feds say they have regional consensus for the plan, thanks to discussions with tribal and state officials. But the state of Oregon remains opposed.
Anna Richter-Taylor with Governor Ted Kulongoski's office says the plan could've done more to deal with hydro operations, which determine how much water is available for fish.
Anna Richter-Taylor: "Because we know that the hydro system continues to be the biggest source of mortality for salmon."
The plan focuses on speeding up habitat projects, intensifying monitoring and research, and creating backup plans, if salmon populations fall.
Todd True is an attorney with Earthjustice, representing environmental groups in the salmon case. He says the backup plans - or triggers - are insufficient.
Todd True: "Quite frankly, all of their discussion about triggers is aimed at detecting if there's a catastrophic failure of the plan. There's actually no attention paid to whether the plan is actually succeeding - which, of course, is the most important question."
True is paraphrasing a question that actually came from James Redden - the Portland judge who could rule soon on the salmon plan. The feds might argue True's point.
Further, the backup plans, and estuary projects address two of Redden's other questions. But on one key question -- what standard should be used to determine whether salmon have recovered -- NOAA says the new administration will stick with the Bush administration's plan.
The Oregon governor's office and environmental groups were disappointed that the new filing with the court didn't toughen that standard.
The plan has its critics on the business side, as well. The Northwest River Partners' business organization generally supported the new plan. But not when Jane Lubchenco said this.
Jane Lubchenco: "Possible breaching of the Snake River dams is - remains on the table as a last resort"
To be clear - the plan doesn't call for removing Snake River dams. In fact, it doesn't even study doing that. The contingency would only be studied if Snake River fish decline (Sockeye are expressly excluded in footnote 12 of AMIP), and other steps aren't working.
Finally, in Lubchenco's effort to include the "best science" - climate change has become a far more prevalent part of the federal plan for Northwest salmon.
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