Columbia Basin Salmon Deserve
by Steven Hawley
In her Feb. 27 commentary, "Letting science guide salmon recovery," Jane Lubchenco appears to demonstrate her newfound prowess as a practicing politician rather than as a scientist. She claims "fish deserve" the science her agency is offering Columbia Basin salmon. Many of her fellow scientists disagree. The "adaptive management" scheme Lubchenco champions, for example, was the subject of an open letter to Judge Redden, signed in late 2009 by more than a hundred fisheries biologists, informing him the plan would not do enough for endangered salmon. Lubchenco's plan was also roundly criticized in a paper sponsored by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society. (You can download the report at wdafs.org.)
The scientific review process that Lubchenco recollects was a closed-door affair. The scientists involved had to sign confidentiality agreements, and the full record of their discussion is being withheld by NOAA. What comments from this process are available are not as unconditionally approving as Lubchenco paints them to be. One reviewer of the biological opinion, a former NOAA scientist, wrote that it would be pointless to have a jeopardy standard without specific population targets, a point Judge Redden has also made.
Last, claiming success for salmon recovery by citing survival data for smolts at the dams is like claiming a cure for cancer after observing that a vanload of patients survived the ride from hospice to the chemo ward.
Dams kill some salmon; the slack water behind them kills more. The best available science tells us that a 2 percent return from oceanward juvenile salmon to returning adult is needed to sustain salmon populations; 4 percent to rebuild. Systemwide survival is less than 1 percent. Scientists have figured the portion of blame attributable to dams for the demise of salmon in the Columbia Basin at 60 to 80 percent.
Certainly the fish, as well as the humans hoping to recover them, deserve better.
Columbia River Salmon: Letting Science Guide Salmon Recovery by Jane Lubchenco, The Oregonian, 2/26/11
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