NOAA seeks new path toward Northwest salmon solutions

BOISE — Federal salmon managers today took a critical first step toward creating shared salmon solutions in the Columbia and Snake river basin.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this afternoon sent a letter to more than 200 Columbia Basin stakeholders announcing that it is seeking input on challenges and opportunities for protecting and restoring endangered wild salmon and steelhead in the region.

“This is a great first step, and we’re eager to participate, but it’s important to remember that this needs to lead to a place that brings people together to consider all options for salmon recovery,” said IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. “Such direct and inclusive stakeholder engagement hasn’t been tried for Columbia Basin salmon. This is an opportunity for people to work together on the shared goal of restoring our endangered salmon.”

IRU believes NOAA’s approach is an opportunity for salmon and the communities that depend on them, but is concerned about NOAA’s apparent lack of urgency. The letter, signed by NOAA Deputy Regional Administrator Barry Thom, states that the process kicked off today will inform decisions in 2014 and beyond.

“Meanwhile, our salmon returns are projected to be down in 2013, and we’re still operating under an illegal biological opinion that’s scheduled to be rewritten by January 2014,” Sedivy said. “We’re ready to participate in this process, but our salmon are in trouble now.”

Sedivy said a process in which all affected parties have a voice at the table offers the best chance to forge a plan that has comprehensive buy-in because it will benefit people widely throughout the region. Parties should include anglers, farmers, utilities, energy consumers, shippers, sportsmen, conservationists and others.

“Such an inclusive stakeholder process is what Senator Crapo asked for in May 2009, and it’s been reiterated by other prominent elected leaders since then,” Sedivy said. “There is broad and growing support from throughout the region for a new approach. And we hope that is what NOAA is offering now.”