Feds release flawed salmon plan, again

Federal agencies released their latest recovery plan for ESA-listed salmon in the Columbia and Snake River Basin today. The plan, called a Biological Opinion, offers little change from the federal governments 2004 plan, which was ruled illegal by a federal court in 2005 for failing to do enough for salmon.

The recovery measures outlined in this new plan will also fall short of restoring Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead, salmon advocates say, and actually rolls back certain crucial recovery measures.

"This is the same ineffective plan in a new dress," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. "The governments continual failure is paving a path for wild salmon extinction. I feel certain that the courts will see right through this latest federal smokescreen."

The plan was released on the heels of a deal between the Bonneville Power Administration and four Columbia River tribes, which effectively silenced tribal scientists. In recent months, the tribes submitted extensive scientific and legal objections to the draft biological opinion.

"Tribal deal or no tribal deal, this new plan still ignores sound science and disregards the economic value of salmon and steelhead to Idaho's rural communities," said Sedivy. "A plan rooted in science would not ignore the devastating impacts of the four lower Snake River dams as this plan does."

The release of the federal plan follows dismal returns and limited fishing seasons last year. Only four sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake. And while fisheries managers predict that a boost in hatchery returns will allow for increased fishing in 2008, predictions for wild spring/chinook returns this season fall far below recovery targets.

"This administration is far more committed to protecting the status quo than they are to promoting solutions that would benefit communities in Idaho and throughout the Northwest," said Rexann Zimmerman, owner of the tackle shop in Riggins, Idaho. "This plan wont get us to sustainable, dependable salmon runs, and those of us who depend on salmon fishing will suffer."

This BiOp is the latest in a series of salmon plans written by federal agencies over the last decade. The previous three have been found legally and scientifically lacking by federal courts, forcing re-write after re-write. U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland soundly rejected the federal government's 2004 salmon plan and raised serious concerns about the draft biological opinion last October. The Judge indicated that serious consequences for federal hydro-system operations would follow if federal administrators do not follow the law in this new BiOp.

While the new plan, which would guide salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia and Snake River basin for the next decade, includes provisions for habitat restoration, hatchery production, and predator control, it calls for no significant changes to the region's federal hydro system and ignores the four lethal dams on the lower Snake River. Scientists agree that the four dams in Eastern Washington do the most harm to the basin's endangered salmon.

Nor does the new plan include any increases in the amount of water spilled over the dams to improve critical downstream migration, despite well-documented success of such court-ordered improvements in past years. In fact, the new plan rolls back spill programs.

"There's no excuse for another ineffective salmon recovery plan," said Chris Swersey, owner of Silver Cloud Expeditions in Salmon, Idaho. "The federal government has had two years to come up with a viable plan that would allow for desperately needed solutions."

A majority of fisheries biologists say that the surest, and probably only way to restore Idaho's wild salmon populations is to remove the four lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington. Since the Bush Administration came to power in 2000, the federal government has refused to consider dam removal as part of the federal recovery plan.

Scientists know that we need to address the biggest killer of Idaho's salmon if were ever going to recover these fish the four lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington," said Swersey. "This plan is another outline for failure, and Idaho's riverside communities that depend on salmon will suffer because of it."