Federal government commits $900 million to failed salmon recovery measures

PORTLAND-- The federal government demonstrated again today that it is unwilling to take effective steps to recover Idaho's wild salmon by signing an agreement that commits about $900 million more toward expensive salmon recovery measures. 

The agreement was signed by the federal government (represented by the Bonneville Power Administration) and gives three lower Columbia treaty tribes $900 million toward hatchery and habitat programs, in exchange for the tribe's commitment to support the latest federal plan for operating dams on the Snake and Columbia Rivers. In recent months, the tribes submitted extensive scientific and legal objections to the plan (called a biological opinion). 

Notably, the Nez Perce Tribe did not sign the agreement with BPA. 

"Once again, the Nez Perce Tribe has made a courageous decision for wild Idaho salmon and steelhead," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. "I hope they will continue to hold this line under what must be incredible pressure from BPA, so they can fully participate in all legal and scientific discussions about real salmon recovery."

Signed by the Warm Springs, Yakima, and Umatilla tribes, the BPA deal requires the three tribes to disavow prior criticism of the biological opinion, and agree to remain silent for ten years on the need to remove four high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake River. 

"BPA's deal does little more than silence many good tribal biologists and policy-makers," said Sedivy. "The fact that BPA is requiring their silence says a lot about how much BPA fears the truth. It's wrong for BPA to use ratepayer and taxpayer dollars to suppress the facts." 

While the deal does not alter the scientific case for removing the four lower Snake River dams, it demonstrates that the federal government and BPA are more concerned about obtaining political and legal cover for salmon extinction than restoring wild salmon runs.

"It's wasteful to spend more money on measures that wont recover wild salmon," said Sedivy. "The same money that BPA is spending to defend unnecessary dams would go a long way toward removing the four lower Snake River dams and replacing their benefits."

"A majority of fisheries scientists agree that the best, and likely the only way to restore wild salmon is to remove four high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake River," said Bert Bowler, fisheries biologist and current director of Snake River Salmon Solutions. "Nothing in this deal changes the science." 

The deal also prohibits the three tribes from helping others advocate for lower Snake River dam removal. "We are friends of all Northwest tribes, and we've worked closely together for a long time on Snake River salmon recovery," said Tom Stuart, member of Idaho Rivers United's board of directors and former business owner in Stanley, Idaho. "The three tribes decided to sign this agreement for their own reasons." 

"I salute the courage and strength of the Nez Perce Tribe," said Stuart. "Idaho citizens and the Nez Perce people understand that we cant rely on hatcheries to save wild Idaho salmon, while the federal government ignores the destroyed migration corridor in the lower Snake River."

In 2007, Idaho's spring/summer chinook populations declined for the sixth straight year. Only 4 sockeye returned to central Idaho's Redfish Lake. 

"With wild adult returns so low, we cant afford another failed stay-the-course salmon plan from the federal government," said Stuart. "Scientists know that we need to address the biggest killer of Idahos salmon if were really going to recover these fish--the four lower Snake River dams."

Over the past twenty-five years, the federal government has spent about $7 billion on ineffective salmon recovery measures. 

"It won't be hard for Idahoans to see through this deal. BPA's plan for Idaho salmon is extinction slow, but continued extinction. It's time for Congress to step in and take charge of this renegade federal agency and its wasteful and ineffective actions," said Stuart.