the film
Commentaries and editorials

Activists: Fish Plan Too Timid

by Gene Fadness
The Idaho Statesman, July 28, 2000

Feds say proposal is 'new, and it's not business as usual'

George Frampton acting chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality PORTLAND -- As expected, the Clinton administration proposed a salmon recovery plan Thursday that does not include a proposal to breach four lower Snake River dams unless other less drastic steps, taken over a number of years, fail to meet specified performance standards.

The plan, introduced by nine federal agencies who call themselves the "Federal Caucus," is stronger and more complex than the effort to recover the northern spotted owl in the early 1990s, said George Frampton, acting chairman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

"It's aggressive, it's new, and it's not business as usual," Frampton said, responding to tribal and environmental group critics who say the strategy does not substantially differ from unsuccessful efforts of the past five years.

A central feature of the proposed strategy is the establishment of explicit, scientifically based performance standards to gauge the status of salmon stocks and the success of recovery efforts during the next five, eight and 10 years. If recovery is not being achieved, breaching will likely occur, Frampton said.

Frampton and Will Stelle, regional director for the National Marine Fisheries Service, presented the strategy to restore 12 runs of threatened and endangered salmon. The fish are a living icon of the Pacific Northwest, producing millions of dollars in income to fishing-related businesses and providing spiritual fulfillment for the region's Indians.

The plan calls for more water than the 427,000 acre-feet Idaho water users already provide for flow augmentation, but it does not specify how much more.

Stelle said there are no provisions in the plan to force Idaho farmers to give up more water. He said the government will continue the same willing-seller, willing-buyer program already in place.

But new to the plan is creation of a non-profit water brokerage that would allow the federal government to buy water from water users. Stelle said the federal brokerage is similar to one already operating in California.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which markets power generated from the Northwest dams, also is negotiating with the Canadian government to provide additional water for flow augmentation, Stelle said.

Frampton admitted there was "little argument," that breaching is the option that presents the best chance of restoring salmon runs, but said the government has delayed choosing the option for two reasons: First, it would recover only the four Snake River salmon runs and not the eight other Columbia River runs. Second, there isn't the political support for breaching to get it done in a timely manner.

"These fish need more immediate action," Frampton said.

"This is an all-options strategy. It has the possibility that we may need to breach the dams instilled into it."

Other measures in the proposal include expanding efforts already under way to improve habitat and hatcheries.

It also continues to adjust hydropower operations to improve river flow, creates dam spills to help smolts migrating downstream get over dams, and continues to barge fish around dams.

While the Clinton administration officials were making their announcements, tribal and environmental groups conducted their own news conferences nearby.

They said the federal proposal all but guarantees salmon extinction by 2017 because it does not call for dam breaching.

The groups said it would take the federal government to court if the plan isn't revised during the 60-day comment period that now begins.

Frampton and tribal leaders met until just moments before Frampton and Stelle's press conference.

Coming out of the meeting grim faced, both sides said they were unwilling to compromise on the breaching issue.

"I'm very disappointed," said Sam Penney of Lapwai, chairman of the Nez Perce tribal executive committee. "The federal government is not upholding the treaty and trust obligations to the Nez Perce Tribe."

Environmental groups also criticized the plan for not endorsing breaching and being too vague on performance measures and recovery costs.

"We're encouraged by its comprehensive approach, but missing, most importantly, is a sense of urgency and timing," said Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United, which first called for breaching in 1995.

"Breaching is our East Jerusalem," Bosse said. "It's non-negotiable."

Throughout the country, environmentalists blasted the federal plan.

"It's disappointing for spring/summer chinook. For them, it's a death sentence," said Scott Faber, director of public policy for American Rivers in Washington, D.C.

"President Clinton has 60 days to step in and save the Snake River salmon or face a legacy of being the president who allowed Snake River salmon to go extinct."

Frampton urged critics to study the plan and give it time.

"In just the last few days, we've asked people, unsuccessfully so far, to wait and take a look at this," Frampton said. "Give us the courtesy of taking a look at it before you declare it bankrupt."

The Federal Caucus proposes to continue engineering and other studies for potential breaching to reduce the time needed to secure congressional authorization for breaching if it becomes necessary.

Neither Frampton nor Stelle would be specific on how much the proposal would cost, only that it would be "hundreds of millions" in addition to the up to $700 million annually the Bonneville Power Administration will provide in its ongoing fish mitigation program.

Nor are they convinced the Republican Congress will fund the extensive program.

"We're going to need money budgeted for this by Oct. 1 of this year for the next fiscal year," Frampton said. "Congress hasn't even given us what we asked for last February."

Critics say the funding will be a test of the Northwest delegation's will to save salmon.

"It's put up or shut up time for Congress," said Glen Spain for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"It calls the bluff on Senators Slade Gorton, Larry Craig and Gordon Smith," Spain said of the Washington, Idaho and Oregon Republican senators who oppose breaching. "They're pretty much caught in that if they don't approve funding for reasonable and prudent alternatives, they will bring us breaching."

Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club said it would take more than Northwest efforts and politicians to save the salmon.

"The Northwest didn't provide the leadership to save the spotted owl," Arthur said. "It took the whole nation and the courts. Once the other 46 states realize they could be paying up to $10 billion to the tribes for violation of treaties, they will step forward and take care of this problem."

Frampton, on the other hand, praised Northwest leaders for local efforts.

The governors, including Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, announced their version of a salmon recovery plan Tuesday.

"I think there's common ground with the governors' recommendations," Frampton said.

"I'm encouraged by the fact that two Republicans and two Democrats and states with different interests to protect came to this agreement."

Gene Fadness
Activists: Fish Plan Too Timid
The Idaho Statesman, July 28, 2000

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation