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Agency: Federal Wild Salmon Plan Inadequate

by Staff
The Idaho Statesman, January 2, 2004

But report indicates progress has been made in recovery

SEATTLE -- A federal plan to save wild salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers is falling short, the National Marine Fisheries Service says.

But the agency believes problems can be fixed.

The conclusion results from the first of three reviews on the 10-year plan developed under the Clinton administration. The other two are scheduled for 2005 and 2008.

Adoption of the plan headed off a decision to breach the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington to let the river flow more naturally.

Conservationists maintain the dams still must come down. But in August, President Bush said his administration would work to improve salmon runs while retaining the four dams.

“We´re making good progress,” regional fisheries service director Bob Lohn said, but “it´s not as fast as expected. There´s still room for improvement, but given a more realistic schedule, we believe the agencies can complete the progress they committed to make.”

The report reviewed efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which operate large dams on the two rivers, and the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the hydroelectricity the dams produce.

The rivers´ stocks of salmon, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, are at a fraction of their historic levels. Cyclical ocean conditions in recent years have helped them rebound significantly, giving the agencies some breathing room, Lohn said.

The report, issued last week, drew criticism from environmentalists, who have already won a court order for the government to redraft the recovery plan. The new version is due in June.

“You have an inadequate one that is not being adequately implemented, and that spells trouble,” said Rob Masonis of American Rivers in Seattle. “It relies on voluntary, unspecified actions that are going to happen sometime down the road.”

He did credit the fisheries service for candidly assessing the plan´s progress.

The dams are a deadly obstacle to young salmon migrating to the ocean because of their spinning metal blades, poisonous gases and water-pressure changes. To save the fish, dam managers collect about 80 percent of the salmon and barge them around the dams.

But scientists have found that many of the transported salmon later die, probably because of stress or disease in the barges.

“There´s nothing out there to suggest that you can recover wild Snake River salmon stocks to harvestable, self-sustaining levels without dam removal,” Masonis said.

Dam removal would raise the cost of generating power and prevent barges from carrying grain and other goods from ports as far upstream as Lewiston.

To avoid that, the Clinton administration laid out the program to boost salmon stocks by improving river conditions, limiting salmon harvest and modifying hatchery operations so wild stocks are not overwhelmed and their gene pool damaged.

Agency: Federal Wild Salmon Plan Inadequate
The Idaho Statesman, January 2, 2004

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