Congress weighs in on new federal salmon plan

Calling the effort to restore wild salmon to the Columbia and Snake Rivers one of the most important endangered species challenges of our day, nearly 100 members of Congress urged the federal government to develop a plan that examines all scientifically credible and economically viable alternatives for salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin, including removing four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington State.

With significant bi-partisan support from 92 lawmakers representing 27 states, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Thomas Petri (R-WI) spearheaded the letter calling on NOAA Fisheries to base its recovery planning efforts on the best available economics and science and consider all reasonable solutions as the agency develops the final version of a court-mandated salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers.

"This is the third biological opinion under consideration by the region since 2000, and we cant afford not to get it right. The potential impacts of global warming on endangered Northwest salmon make this task even more critical. I hope the administration will seriously consider the suggestions in our letter, said Rep. Blumenauer.

Federal agencies have an obligation to U.S. taxpayers to draft a salmon plan that makes fiscal and scientific sense before billions more in federal dollars are spent on failing efforts, said Rep. Petri.

In late 2004, NOAA Fisheries released a salmon plan for the Columbia River Basin that largely ignored the detrimental impacts of the federal hydrosystem on wild salmon and steelhead, and failed to ensure healthy populations of wild fish as required under the Endangered Species Act. Widely criticized by scientists, fishermen, businesses and conservation groups for the ongoing harm it causes to fish and fishing communities while wasting millions in taxpayer dollars, the plan was ruled illegal by federal district court Judge James A. Redden, a decision upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

NOAA Fisheries, in conjunction with the Bonneville Power Administration and Army Corps of Engineers, is scheduled to release a new plan in early May. The congressional letter calls upon NOAA to reevaluate the status quo salmon and dam management strategies it proposed in earlier drafts, noting that these actions provide less protection for salmon than previous measures, and fail to adequately address the impact of climate change on the Columbia Basin, while costing U.S. taxpayers and Northwest ratepayers as much as $8 billion over the next decade.

The Courts have consistently sent a strong message to the federal government that it can no longer manipulate the Columbia and Snake Rivers in ways that drive the regions salmon to extinction, and now our Congressional leadership has stepped up to do the same, said Nicole Cordan, Policy and Legal Director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Years of court decisions have compelled the federal agencies to do a complete, credible scientific analysis and evaluation of all restoration options, including looking at lower Snake River dam removal as well as other aggressive non-breach scenarios. Thats what the law requires and what recovery demands, but so far this administration has failed to deliver.

In signing this letter, Congress is sending a strong message to NOAA Fisheries that all salmon recovery options must be considered, including alternatives that the agencies have ignored until now, despite their sound scientific basis and economic viability, said Autumn Hanna, Senior Program Director for Taxpayers for Common Sense. With more than $7 billion in taxpayer dollars already spent and salmon still in decline, we must target our resources to the most cost-effective, scientifically credible recovery solutions.

The congressional letter has the support of Save Our Wild Salmon, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United, Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, and a nationwide coalition of conservation, business and fishing groups.