Testimony of Sam Penney
9/13/00 - Delivered before the Committee on Environment and Public
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am pleased to be here today to speak on behalf of the Nez Perce Tribe and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. As you know, we received voluminous draft documents from the federal government on July 27. We are still in the process of reviewing these documents, particularly their technical aspects. However, I would like to say at the outset, that the tribes' position supporting breaching the Snake River dams and our position supporting an economic investment package to local communities affected by breaching these dams remain unchanged. We see no new science or information that would indicate other actions will be sufficient to recover Snake River chinook throughout the range of their current habitat. I would like to offer the following observations.
-- The federal proposal fails to comply with the Clean Water Act. The United States District Court recently reaffirmed that the Corps of Engineers must comply with federally-approved water quality standards for temperature and dissolved gas in the National Wildlife Federation v. Corps of Engineers litigation, yet the federal proposal does not contain actions that will be implemented to achieve these standards.
-- The federal proposal fails to rebuild salmon runs to honor the tribes' treaty fishing rights. We have repeatedly requested the federal government to honor its legal and moral obligations under our treaties to rebuild runs within a meaningful time period that will protect our treaty- secured fishing rights. We have set forth tribal proposals to this end in our Spirit of the Salmon plan and in hundreds of pages of comments to the federal government. Instead, the federal plans are singularly focused on museum-piece management, which is not defensible under our treaties or the ESA.
-- The federal proposal is a plan for extinction of Snake River salmon stocks. The federal proposal sanctions the extinction of spring chinook "index stocks" in tributaries of the Salmon River where salmon habitat is pristine.
-- The federal proposal fails to recognize that if the dams are not breached, large amounts of additional water from the Upper Snake River will be required for flow augmentation to provide the survival benefits that juvenile salmon need.
-- The federal proposal's reliance on yet-to-be-developed "performance standards" to delay breaching the four lower Snake River dams and to get the hydrosystem out of jeopardy ignores the most significant performance standard--the status of the fish. The risk of extinction for Snake River salmon has not been significantly reduced since they were listed under the Endangered Species Act over eight years ago and the federal proposal does not ensure any improvement for Snake River salmon. Scientists predict Snake River spring chinook will be extinct by 2017.
-- The federal proposal's reliance on "offsite mitigation measures" to delay breaching the four lower Snake River dams and to get the hydrosystem out of jeopardy does not preserve and rebuild salmon runs. Based on the federal proposal, we expect to see continuing losses of local salmon populations particularly in basins above four or more hydro projects, even in areas of pristine habitat that is located in Idaho wilderness areas. Even if off-site mitigation measures were appropriate for certain stocks, there is no budget or implementation plan for such measures in the federal proposal.
-- Other than seeking to have tribal governments further restrict our already voluntarily restricted tribal fisheries, the All-H Paper describes no role for tribal governments as co-managers. By its silence, the federal documents would appear to deny the successes of the tribes in their salmon recovery efforts in basins like the Clearwater, Umatilla, Hood, and Yakima. This is especially frustrating since we held numerous meetings with the federal government, and our detailed tribal proposals seem to have made no impact at all.
We oppose the new concept of "full mitigation" as described in the Hydro BiOp. This is a concept based upon the desires of Bonneville and not on either the ESA, the biological needs of salmon, or treaty case law. Under this concept, Bonneville's mitigation responsibilities are "capped" by the estimating the number of fish that would survive if they migrated through a mythical Columbia River that is dam free. Among other things, the proposal ignores the decades of dam impacts that have eroded the salmon populations.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the alarm on the extinction clock has gone off long ago. Neither the salmon, nor the Tribes, nor the people of the Northwest have the time to delay breaching the four lower Snake River dams and implementing the "major overhaul" the United States' operation of the hydrosystem needs. I am deeply disappointed the United States has chosen to ignore its treaty and trust obligations. We will not be deterred from our solemn duties to act on behalf of the salmon and our people.
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