Federal agencies squander chance for progress on Northwest salmon survival, send region back to court
Latest Biological Opinion yet another rehash of court-rejected plan
PORTLAND, Ore. – Yesterday, 13 conservation and fishing groups filed a legal challenge of the latest federal plan for endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon. The organizations assert that the Obama administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) failed to address the core issues that triggered federal-court rejection of three previous plans, forcing another round of litigation just as momentum is building in the Northwest for a broadly supported stakeholder collaboration as an alternative to the courtroom.
“This latest blueprint is virtually indistinguishable from the plan rejected by the district court in 2011, not to mention the several illegal plans before that,” said Save Our Wild Salmon Executive Director Joseph Bogaard. “Rather than looking for ways to do what’s needed to safeguard imperiled salmon and bring people together, the federal agencies have opted to stick with a failed framework while trying an end-run around good science. Unfortunately for salmon, our fishing economy and Northwest people, little has changed in nearly two decades. The agencies are choosing conflict over collaboration, dragging the region back into court as a result.”
Conservation and fishing groups have successfully challenged previous salmon plans for failing to protect these treasured and invaluable Northwest icons, but were hoping to avoid another round of litigation by seeking a solutions-driven stakeholder process. Unfortunately, salmon advocates’ repeated calls over several years for such a collaboration, as well as for new measures to adequately protect fish, were met with near silence by federal agencies. Salmon groups have no choice but to hold the government accountable and ensure at-risk salmon and steelhead populations receive protections under the Endangered Species Act.
“This supposedly ‘new’ plan once again fails to help salmon or boost salmon jobs, fails to meet the basic requirements of law and science, and fails to lay the foundation for a broadly supported stakeholder process that could work toward shared solutions,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the west coast’s largest trade association of commercial fishing families. “In some respects, such as cutting back spill, this version is actually a step backward from what’s already been thrown out of court as ‘illegal, arbitrary and capricious.’ ”
The federal plan not only squanders a chance to move the region forward toward shared solutions, it also rolls back spill – water released over the dams to help young migrating salmon reach the Pacific Ocean more safely. A basic level of spill has been in place under court order since 2006. A team of federal, state and Tribal scientists studying spill for nearly two decades concluded it is boosting salmon survival and adult returns. These same scientists predict that expanding spill above current levels could help recover many Columbia Basin salmon stocks. But instead of looking for ways to test that finding, NMFS’s plan moves in the opposite direction – ignoring sound science and allowing dam operators to cut spill below current levels.
“A 17-year scientific study demonstrates that spill is our most effective immediate measure to increase salmon survival across their life-cycle,” said Liz Hamilton, Executive Director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, the region’s largest trade association of sportfishing businesses. “The court-ordered spill in place since 2006, combined with recent years of even higher spill due to heavy spring run-off, has resulted in more adult fish returning to the Columbia. That’s helped salmon businesses and the jobs they support, plain and simple.
“Despite the proven benefits of spill, expanding it to help recover fish has been largely opposed by Bonneville Power Administration and other federal agencies for nearly 20 years,” added Hamilton. “Fish returns are telling us that enhanced spill works. The salmon are talking, and it’s hard to fathom why NMFS, the science agency charged with restoring them, isn’t listening.”
The plan also fails to identify any new or additional measures to address the intensifying harm of climate change. “Climate change isn’t some future threat on the distant horizon – it’s here and harming already-endangered salmon as we speak,” said Bogaard of Save Our Wild Salmon. “Yet NMFS – an agency that certainly knows better – didn’t include a single additional new action to help salmon better survive the warming waters and altered river flows that climate change is bringing to the Columbia Basin. That’s more than a missed opportunity – it’s negligence.”
Idaho Rivers United Salmon Program Coordinator Greg Stahl added that the ongoing federal failure in the Columbia Basin underscores the need for a change in direction, away from expensive gridlock and toward solutions that work for the people of the Northwest and the nation.
“After two decades of creatively reinterpreting the Endangered Species Act, the federal agencies have shown their eagerness to protect the status quo trumps their interest in ensuring long-term protection and recovery of salmon and steelhead,” Stahl said. “Pacific Northwest residents, American taxpayers and our endangered salmon deserve more.”
Today’s legal challenge was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the following conservation groups, sport and commercial fishing organizations, and clean energy advocates: National Wildlife Federation, Washington Wildlife Federation, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Idaho Rivers United, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, American Rivers, International Federation of Fly Fishers, Salmon for All, NW Energy Coalition, and Columbia Riverkeeper.
The challenge, also called a supplemental complaint, can be viewed here.
Todd True, Earthjustice: (206) 343-7340, ext. 1030
Liz Hamilton, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association: (503) 704-1772
Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations: (541) 689-2000
Greg Stahl, Idaho Rivers United: (208) 343-7481
Joseph Bogaard, Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition: (206) 300-1003