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Snake River Still Among Worst, Group Says

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, October 20, 2000

Despite the creation of a huge federal fish recovery plan, the environmental group American Rivers on Thursday faulted the Clinton administration for failing to make any progress this year fixing the lower Snake River.

"We need a credible series of short-term actions to see if we can begin to recover these wild salmon runs," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. "The final plan must call for dam removal in the near-term unless there are major gains in the next few years."

Already, governors from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have given the National Marine Fisheries Service detailed lists of where they think its fish plan falls short. The tribal critique is expected soon.

American Rivers, known best for its annual list naming the nation's "most endangered" rivers in the nation, held a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to call for more river improvements before the end of the Clinton administration.

The group said conditions have improved on some of the nation's "most endangered" rivers -- but not on the lower Snake River, dubbed the nation's worst-off river earlier this year. It said NMFS' Columbia-Snake draft plan "lacks effective recovery actions."

Wodder pressed the president to exercise the kind of resolve on the Snake that he did recently on the Missouri River, when he won a showdown with Congress over environmental reforms. "We're asking him to exercise the same leadership in his remaining days in office to save the wild salmon of the Pacific Northwest," she said.

Environmental groups aren't the only ones watching Northwest salmon recovery efforts closely as the election nears and NMFS tries to finish its operations plan.

While the NMFS plan is a creation of the Clinton-Gore administration, "The federal government's obligations remain the same whether it's a republican or a democrat in office," said Chuck Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland.

He fears, however, that changing presidents will further delay the federal plan.

Vice President Al Gore is most closely aligned with tribal fish perspectives, but Hudson anticipated that even if Gore is elected president some key players will be replaced, creating the potential for more delay in implementing federal salmon plans.

Gore's most prominent statements about Northwest salmon include his call for a "salmon summit" to find a "real solution" based on "solid science." While Gore has been silent on dam breaching, his republican opponent, George W. Bush, is best known for his strong opposition to the measure.

"All sides are now using (the breaching issue) to exploit a ... particular agenda during this election," said a recent newsletter by the Columbia River Alliance, a Portland-based coalition of river users and a staunch dam defender.

"Regardless of the election outcome, the region must continue to pursue comprehensive salmon recovery efforts," the alliance said. "That is truly our only way of preventing dam breaching."

Mike Lee
Snake River Still Among Worst, Group Says
Tri-City Herald, October 20, 2000

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