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Commentaries and editorials

A New Federal Plan, the Same Old Failure

by Ted Kulongoski
The Oregonian, May 6, 2008

Wild salmon and steelhead are important symbols to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. These native fish help define our region, our history and culture, our economy and our spirit. The state has a long legacy of protecting our wild fish for future generations so they remain a vital part of our heritage, and it's a legacy worth fighting for.

More than three years ago, I joined a lawsuit with conservation groups and Native American tribes challenging the federal government over the negative effects of the Columbia and Lower Snake River dams on wild salmon and steelhead. I joined the suit because the federal government was failing to meet its obligations under the Endangered Species Act to protect and recover our native fish.

The courts agreed with Oregon and directed federal agencies to rewrite their plan for operating the dams on the Columbia and Snake to ensure the protection of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead. Oregon worked for more than two years with those agencies, states and tribes in an attempt to ensure the next plan would put Columbia River salmon and steelhead on a path to recovery.

On Monday, the federal government unveiled its latest plan and biological opinion. Again, it falls far short of what needs to be done.

Instead of improving river conditions for migrating fish, the plan reduces flow, which will result in slower movement of fish through the river system, which reduces their survival. The plan also reduces spill, which will increase mortality rates by sending more young fish through the dams' turbines, and it will increase the artificial transport of fish around dams, relying more on barges and trucks. Last, the plan diverts attention from necessary changes in the operation of the dams by focusing on hatcheries and tributary habitat improvements that are inadequate to recovering Oregon's native fish. Any dam improvements proposed in the plan are clouded by a failure to test benefits to fish prior to maximizing power production. This new plan is not a credible approach to the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead.

Oregon's assessment of the plan is based on solid science. Our science is supported with technical evaluations from state, federal and tribal salmon managers from the Columbia Basin, including fish and wildlife agencies from Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Some states and tribes have recently entered into agreements with the federal government to support the latest federal plan and opinion. I support their efforts to secure funding for hatcheries, habitat and tribal infrastructure. But I take issue with the plan's lack of improvement and accountability in the hydropower system, which remains the primary constraint to native fish recovery.

I am resolved to keep fighting for our wild salmon and steelhead. I prefer to settle Oregon's issues with the federal government at the negotiating table but, thus far, such negotiations have yielded little. If it requires another round of litigation, and that is my only option, then I will pursue that option. Oregon's interests and the future of our wild salmon and steelhead are that important to me -- to all of us.

If Oregon doesn't stand up for our wild salmon and steelhead, who will? It is our natural heritage. It is the right thing to do.

Ted Kulongoski is governor of Oregon.
A New Federal Plan, the Same Old Failure
The Oregonian, May 6, 2008

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