Migrating Toward Consensus on Salmon
by Will Stelle
The Seattle Times, October 16, 2009
... the latest of such trips in search of a durable solution to the difficult 20-year-old debate, dominated by understandably sharp disagreements over the proper role of Lower Snake dam-removal in a long-term strategy.
THE Obama administration went back to Federal District Court in Oregon last month and laid out how it intends to proceed with efforts to restore salmon runs in the Columbia Basin.
It is only the latest of such trips in search of a durable solution to the difficult 20-year-old debate, dominated by understandably sharp disagreements over the proper role of Lower Snake dam-removal in a long-term strategy.
The responses to the latest federal plan have for the most part been positive and encouraging, indicating a broad-based commitment to progress beyond the stalemates of the past. A limited few on both ends of the spectrum remain stuck on the back-and-forth about dam removal -- dams in or dams out -- which is probably to be expected. However, we should press ourselves to commit to a broader, more scientifically comprehensive focus, move beyond the bumper-sticker debates, and steer this most important public discourse accordingly.
The plan consists of three major components: the elements of the 2008 "biological opinion" issued under the Endangered Species Act; the Columbia River Fish Accords between the federal, tribal and state governments in the Basin; and a newly minted Adaptive Management Implementation Plan developed by the Obama administration and its partners to expand and accelerate major estuarine improvements in the lower river and strengthen the triggers for additional measures if the fish runs are not faring as is hoped.
The proposal brings all of us -- and the judge -- to the basic question: Should we commit to the program or send it back to the drawing board?
How this plays out is a big deal. It will determine whether we proceed with a billion-dollar-plus restoration effort that goes to the heart of the really tough stuff (land and water use) or default to continued debate after 20 years of the same. It also will directly implicate other major restoration efforts regionally and nationally, from Puget Sound to the Klamath Basin to the California Bay Delta to the Florida Everglades.
If this ecologically comprehensive program passes muster, it can serve as a blueprint for other efforts and help propel us out of a fruitless search for silver bullets. Finally, it is a very big deal for the administration of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) nationally and for the recurring legislative interventions that seek to exempt select activities from its reach -- as demonstrated recently in the Senate on California water -- interventions that may increase if this plan is rejected.
Does the program in fact pass muster? Ultimately, the judicial system will give us its answer. From strategic, programmatic and technical perspectives, I respectfully suggest that the answer is yes.
First, it is strategically sound because it addresses head-on all of the major sources of human-caused mortality that are choking off salmon runs. The program calls for hydropower improvements, hatchery improvements, harvest improvements and -- the toughest area -- habitat improvements, from the upper reaches of the watersheds down through the estuarine environments that are so rich and vital.
Second, its program of improvements is solid, substantial, scientifically well-grounded and measurable.
Third, it offers a suite of implementation commitments (financial, scientific and institutional) that are muscular, reliable and transparent.
And finally, it commits to a monitoring program and a system of adjustments designed to track progress in improving the health of the system and the fish runs and address the unexpected in a way that sets a new standard of sophistication for this type of endeavor.
There are special dynamics at work here that deserve mention.
Stelle's Tenure gets both Kudos and Complaints Columbia Basin Bulletin, 9/15/00 Testimony of William Stelle, Jr. as prepared for delivery before the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Water & Power Subcommittee, 7/19/00
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