Legislation introduction promising for Snake River salmon, steelhead

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today establishes a clear path toward salmon and steelhead recovery.

The legislation, called the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act of 2009, was introduced by Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Tom Petri, R-Wis. and is bolstered by support from 23 original cosponsors.

"This bill's introduction comes at a critical time in the campaign to recover endangered stocks of Snake and Columbia river salmon and steelhead," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United. "The Obama administration is reviewing a 2008 Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the administration is expected to weigh in on Aug. 14. 

"But more important still, salmon and steelhead are in crisis. Their decline is crippling the Northwest fishing industry and harming regional communities and ecosystems. Its crucial that the Obama administration convene a solutions table that brings together stakeholders to solve this regional catastrophe."

The bill, Sedivy said, is forward-thinking legislation that would work toward Snake River salmon and steelhead recovery by accomplishing four primary objectives. 

It would authorize the National Academy of Sciences to review recovery actions that may be necessary to recover Columbia-Snake basin salmon, including an analysis of lower Snake River dam removal.
It would authorize four peer-reviewed studies by federal agencies to examine how to cost-effectively replace the primary services provided by the lower Snake River dams, in the event Congress or the Obama administration determines the dams must be removed.
It clarifies that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington.
It directs the Corps to review and update its 2002 Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement in which it analyzed options for removing the four lower Snake River dams.

The four peer-reviewed studies, in particular, are an important facet of this legislation, Sedivy said. They include analyses on lower Snake River corridor transportation upgrades, energy options, riverfront revitalization and irrigation water supply upgrades that would all be needed if the four dams on the river in eastern Washington are removed.

"These are the very things well need to help produce effective, forward-thinking collaborative discussions on this issue," Sedivy said. "If implemented, this bill will create jobs and bolster Idahos economy and would do that, both by working toward recovery of endangered stocks of salmon and steelhead and by studying the issues that will be central to regional collaborative discussions on salmon recovery."

By supporting this bill, Congress can take an important leadership role in recovering a national icon, creating jobs and saving taxpayer dollars.

"Scientists say that unless we chart a new, bold course to recover these magnificent fish we will likely see Snake River salmon and steelhead populations go extinct in our lifetime," Sedivy said. "Additionally, by restoring these fish we will create thousands of new fishing and clean energy jobs in the Northwest. This legislation is an important step toward accomplishing these goals."

Furthermore, the introduction of this bill adds to the numerous voices calling for a solution to the Snake River salmon crisis. Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley have each stated their support for a process that brings together stakeholders to discuss all salmon recovery options, including lower Snake River dam removal. 

U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who may soon rule on the legality of the governments 2008 Biological Opinion, has repeatedly urged the federal agencies in charge of salmon restoration to include a contingency plan for lower Snake River dam removal in the event that other recovery measures fail. But the agencies have steadfastly refused to consider this for the past eight years.

"Judge Redden has thrown out the last two salmon plans, and the latest 2008 plan is being challenged in court by IRU and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups," Sedivy said. "This legislation would help inform contingency planning processes with up-to-date facts and analysis. Its time to chart a new course. Its time to move forward."