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Ecology and salmon related articles

to Bill Clinton

A Letter from 200 Scientists
March 22, 1999


March 22, 1999

President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Clinton:

We, the undersigned scientists, are gravely concerned that current measures to recover Columbia basin salmon and steelhead are falling far short of what is needed to avert widespread extinctions in the near future. We are especially concerned that the current management approach appears to be fixed on a path of technological solutions instead of a return to more normative river conditions. The former path is a dangerous one that is likely to send several depressed stocks into extinction over the next few decades.

The situation is particularly acute in the Snake River basin, where over the last thirty years wild salmon and steelhead runs have declined by nearly 90 percent following the construction of four federal dams on the Lower Snake River. Today, every native run of salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin either is already extinct or listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

As you are aware, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has committed to choose a long-term recovery plan for Snake River salmon and steelhead by the end of 1999. This commitment, known as the 1999 Decision, will be your Administration's legacy to Northwest salmon. The NMFS decision will stem from an environmental impact statement (EIS) that is currently being conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This EIS, called the Lower Snake River Juvenile Salmon Migration Feasibility Study, will evaluate three major salmon recovery strategies.

Two of these strategies continue to rely heavily upon the practice of juvenile fish transportation. Barging and trucking of juvenile migrants began experimentally more than 20 years ago in an attempt to mitigate for the effects of a river system made lethal by the Federal Columbia River Power System. Since its inception, the transportation program has never sustained the minimum smolt-to-adult survival rate that is needed to begin rebuilding wild Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks. It has failed even to halt their decline.

Every independent scientific analysis on this subject since the landmark 1996 Return to the River report by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) has concluded that juvenile fish transportation in the Columbia-Snake river system is a failed practice that should be phased out in lieu of a return to more normative river conditions. The most comprehensive PIT-tagging study to date now shows that even with technological advances, the transportation program has failed to produce the minimum survival rate that is required to begin rebuilding wild Snake River salmon and steelhead stocks.

The most recent data indicates that a five to fifteen-fold increase in survival rates is needed in order to meet NMFS recovery goals.

There is building scientific consensus that the surest way to restore wild Snake River salmon and steelhead runs is to reclaim a 140-mile-long reach of their migration corridor by bypassing four dams on the Lower Snake River. This strategy, known as the natural river option, is the third recovery strategy being evaluated in the Corps' EIS.

According to the PATH (Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses) scientific group, the team of regional scientists that will provide most of the biological information for the 1999 Decision, the natural river option is the only recovery action that has a high likelihood of restoring wild Snake River salmon and steelhead runs to healthy levels. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game calls the natural river option "the best biological choice for recovering salmon and steelhead in Idaho," saying it is "logical, biologically sound, has the highest certainty of success and lowest risk of failure, and is consistent with the preponderance of scientific data." The natural river option is the only recovery strategy under consideration that is consistent with the normative river principles outlined in Return to the River.

Due to habitat loss resulting from the construction of impassable dams, the Snake River basin now contains 70 percent of the potential production for spring/summer chinook salmon and summer steelhead in the entire Columbia basin. Wild Snake River salmon and steelhead are an irreplaceable genetic resource that continue to play a vital ecological role even at their currently depressed levels. If these runs are allowed to vanish, the foundation of the Interior Northwest's ecosystems will be severely undermined.

The weight of scientific evidence clearly shows that wild Snake River salmon and steelhead runs cannot be recovered under existing river conditions. Enough time remains to restore them, but only if the failed practices of the past are abandoned and we move quickly to restore the normative river conditions under which these fish evolved. We urge you to provide leadership on this issue in order to ensure that the 1999 Decision isn't delayed. Biologically, the choice of how to best recover these fish is clear, and the consequences of maintaining the status quo are all but certain.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions on salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia basin. Thank you for taking the time to listen to our views on this critical issue.


The following Concerned Scientists:

Jeff Abrams, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Jeffrey Adams, Fisheries Biologist, Alaska
Chuck Alexander, Fisheries Biologist, Nevada
Sally Andersen, Fisheries Biologist, Alaska
Donald R. Anderson, Jr., Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Eric Anderson, Fisheries Biologist, Washington
Kimberly A. Apperson, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Robyn Armstrong, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Bill Arnsberg, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Dan Averill, Aquatic Ecologist, Oregon
Ray Beamesderfer, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Chris Beasley, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Robert Behnke, Ph.D., Professor of Fisheries, Colorado State University
Pat Bigelow, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Charles L. Blair, Ecologist, Idaho
Scott Bosse, Conservation Scientist, Idaho
Nick Bouwes, Ph.D., Fish Population Analyst, Oregon
Bert Bowler, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Ed Bowles, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Samuel J. Brenkman, Fisheries Biologist, Washington
Arnie Brimmer, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Jody Brostrom, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Evan Brown, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Ralph Browning, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Phaedra Budy, Fisheries Scientist, Washington
Detlef Buettner, Fisheries Biologist, Alaska
Edwin Buettner, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Howard Burge, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
David C. Burns, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Patrick A. Byorth, Fisheries Biologist, Montana
Alan Byrne, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
David A. Cannamela, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Dave Cannon, Fisheries Biologist, Alaska
John Casteel, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Tim Cochnauer, Ph.D., Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Wendy Cole, Fisheries Biologist, Washington
Craig R. Contor, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Chip Corsi, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Tom Curet, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Kenneth Currens, Fishery Geneticist, Washington
Michele DeHart, Fish Passage Center Manager, Oregon
John DeVore, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Washington
Jeff Dillon, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Chris Downs, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho

Daniel J. Duffield, Fisheries Biologist, Utah
Rodney C. Duke, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Stephen D. Duke, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Steven Elle, Fishery Research Biologist, Idaho
James Esch, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Al Espinosa, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Bob Esselman, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Allen F. Evans, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Derrek Faber, Fishery Biologist, Washington
Colleen Fagan, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Mike Faler, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Mary Faurot, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Margaret J. Filardo, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Kate Forster, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Jim Fredericks, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Jeffrey Fryer, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Howard Fuss, Fisheries Research Scientist, Washington
Mark Gamblin, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Mark Gavin, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Robert E. Gresswell, Ph.D., Fishery Biologist, Oregon
Judy Hall-Griswold, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Robert G. Griswold, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Rich Grost, Independent Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
John Guzevich, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Denise Hann, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Tim Hardin, Fishery Scientist, Oregon
Charles E. Harris, Wildlife Research Biologist, Idaho
Richard Haskins, Fisheries Biologist, Nevada
Peter Hassemer, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Douglas Hatch, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Roy Heberger, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
Daniel Herrig, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Brian Hoelscher, Aquatic Scientist, Idaho
Rian Hooff, Aquatic Biologist, Oregon
Ned Horner, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Robert House, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Rich Howard, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
Robert M. Hughes, Aquatic Ecologist, Oregon
Charles Huntington, Aquatic Biologist, Oregon
Michael Hurley, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Bill Hutchinson, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Sue Ireland, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Allen Isaacson, Aquatic Ecologist, Idaho
Paul Janssen, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho

Justin Jiminez, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Dave Johnson, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
June Johnson, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Thom H. Johnson, Fisheries Biologist, Washington
Ray N. Jones, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Ron Josephson, Fisheries Biologist, Alaska
James R. Karr, Ph.D., Prof. of Fisheries and Zoology, University of Washington
Mary Louise Keefe, Fishery Biologist, Oregon
Russ Kiefer, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Sharon W. Kiefer, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Suzanne Knapp, Fisheries Research Biologist, Washington
Ted Koch, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
Gretchen Kruse, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Tony Lamansky, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Danny Lee, Ph.D., Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Eric Leitzinger, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Scott Leonard, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Brian Leth, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Hiram W. Li, Ph.D., Professor of Fisheries Science, Oregon State University
Mike Liquori, Geomorphologist, Washington
Jerry Lockhart, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Sam Lohr, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Gregg Lomnicky, Aquatic Ecologist, Oregon
Brian MacDonald, Aquatic Biologist, Washington
Colleen B. MacDonald, Marine Resources Biologist, Washington
Pat Marcuson, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Donald M. Martin, Aquatic Ecologist, Idaho
Robert C. Martin, Natural Resource Biologist, Idaho
Mike Matylewich, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Bruce A. McIntosh, Aquatic Ecologist, Oregon
Terry Maret, Biologist, Idaho
Alec G. Maule, Ph.D., Research Fish Physiologist, Washington
Gregg Mauser, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Dale A. McCullough, Fishery Scientist, Oregon
Chris Meade, Environmental Scientist, Alaska
Steve Meadows, Fisheries Biologist, Washington
Douglas J. Megargle, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Grant A. Meyer, Ph.D., Prof. of Geomorphology, Middlebury College, Vermont
William H. Miller, PhD., Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Paula Minear, Fisheries Researcher, Oregon
G. Wayne Minshall, Stream Ecologist, Idaho
Virgil Moore, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
William H. Mullins, Biologist, Idaho
Michael Mulvey, Aquatic Biologist, Oregon

Phillip R. Mundy, Ph.D., Independent Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Richard K. Nawa, Ecologist, Oregon
Doug Nemeth, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Brad Nye, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
C. Kerry Overton, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Wayne J. Paradis, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Steve Parker, Fishery Biologist, Oregon
Fred Partridge, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Steve Petit, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Charlie Petrosky, Ph.D., Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Virginia Phalen, Fisheries Biologist, Washington
Dexter Pittman, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
Mark Powell, Aquatic Ecologist, California
Matt Powell, Ph.D., Fishery Geneticist, Idaho
Richard Pyzik, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Chris Reighn, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Dean Rhine, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Jonathan J. Rhodes, Hydrologist, Oregon
Bruce Rieman, Ph.D., Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Cindy Robertson, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Steve Rocklage, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Thomas L. Rogers, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Jonathan Rosenfield, Conservation and Behavioral Ecologist, New Mexico
Steve Rubin, Fishery Biologist, Washington
Carl Safina, Ph.D., Director, Living Oceans Campaign, Audubon Society, New York
Paul Sankovich, Fisheries Research Biologist, Oregon
Brendan Scanlon, Fisheries Research Biologist, Alaska
Rodney Scarpella, Fisheries Biologist, Nevada
Howard Schaller, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Bill Schrader, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Bruce Schuld, Water Quality Scientist, Idaho
Gregg Servheen, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
Jill Silvey, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Lucy Slominski, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Gerald R. Smith, Director, Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan
Brent R. Snider, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Scott Spaulding, Fisheries Biologist, California
Brian Spence, Fishery Scientist, Washington
Kristin Stahl-Johnson, Fisheries Policy Analyst, Alaska
Jack A. Stanford, Ph.D., Professor of Ecology, University of Montana
Kathryn Stangl, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
David P. Statler, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Geoffrey B. Steinhart, Fisheries Scientist, Alaska
Elizabeth A. Stephens, Fisheries Research Biologist, Alaska

Russell M. Strach, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Don F. Swartz, Fisheries Biologist, Oregon
Kaz Thea, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
Allan E. Thomas, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Idaho
William Thompson, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Russell F. Thurow, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Richard D. Uberuaga, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
James W. Unsworth, Wildlife Research Biologist, Idaho
Ian R. Waite, Ph.D., Aquatic Ecologist, Oregon
Jody Walters, Fisheries Research Biologist, Idaho
Chuck Warren, Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Vicki Watson, Ph.D., Prof. of Biology and Environmental Studies, Univ. of Montana
Earl Weber, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Hal Weeks, Marine Ecologist, Oregon
David Wegner, Fisheries Scientist, Arizona
Gene Weller, Fisheries Scientist, Nevada
Thomas C. Welsh, Ph.D., Fishery Biologist, Idaho
Dana Wergel, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Mary Whalen, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Alaska
Jack E. Williams, Ph.D., Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Richard N. Williams, Ph.D., Fishery Geneticist, Idaho
William Wilson, Fisheries Scientist, Alaska
Paul Wilson, Fisheries Scientist, Oregon
Robert C. Wissmar, Ph.D., Professor of Fisheries, University of Washington
Roger S.C. Wolcott Jr., Fishery Biologist, Oregon
Wayne Wurtsbaugh, Aquatic Ecologist, Utah
Don W. Zaroban, Fisheries Scientist, Idaho
Shijie Zhou, Ph.D., Natural Resource Specialist, Oregon
Bruce W. Zoellick, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho
Caleb Zurstadt, Fisheries Biologist, Idaho

[ RESURRECTION by Monte Dolack ]

Resurrection: Restoring Wild Salmon and Steelhead to the Snake River
by Monte Dolack. Available exclusively through Idaho Rivers United.

March 22, 1999 - Press Release

Scientists warn Clinton that salmon face extinction if dams remain

(WASHINGTON DC) Over 200 Northwest scientists sent President Clinton a letter today warning that the federal government's salmon recovery efforts on the Snake River are fixed on a path that is likely to send the legendary fish into extinction within a few decades unless dramatic changes are made quickly. The scientists urged the Clinton Administration to abandon the failed practice of barging and trucking young fish around the lower Snake and Columbia River dams and instead move to restore the lower Snake River to a free-flowing state.

The scientists' letter marks a major new milestone in the Northwest salmon debate. Never before have so many prominent scientists sent such a strong message to political leaders on the need to take drastic action to avert an oncoming wave of extinctions. The scientists warned President Clinton that the Snake River's famed salmon and steelhead runs could be restored "only if the failed practices of the past are abandoned and we move quickly to restore the normative river conditions under which these fish evolved." The scientists further cautioned that "if these runs are allowed to vanish, the foundation of the interior Northwest's ecosystems will be severely undermined."

"We've reached a critical juncture in the decision process." said Scott Bosse, a conservation scientist for the non-profit group Idaho Rivers United. "We can either take the path that an overwhelming majority of scientists say is necessary to recover the fish and start removing some dams, or we can continue down the road we're on knowing full well that extinction is the likely destination. We wanted to let the Clinton Administration know that the veil of scientific uncertainty has been lifted enough to move forward with a plan of action. The need for more studies must no longer be used as an excuse for delay."

The letter states that Snake River salmon runs have declined by nearly 90 percent since the Army Corps of Engineers built four 100-foot-high dams on the lower Snake River in the 1960s and 70s. The fish, some of which migrate up to 1000 miles inland, must cross a total of eight dams on their journey to the ocean and back to their spawning grounds in central Idaho and eastern Oregon and Washington. Historically, an estimated 4 million adult salmon returned to the Snake basin each year, accounting for roughly half of the spring/summer chinook salmon and summer steelhead production in the entire Columbia basin. Those runs have dwindled to less than 10,000 wild fish, and every native salmon and steelhead run in the Snake basin is now either extinct or on the federal endangered species list.

The letter pointed at the failure of juvenile fish barging to recover Snake River salmon despite over twenty years of effort, and cited a recent study by the PATH (Plan for Analyzing and Testing Hypotheses) scientific group that showed bypassing the four lower Snake River dams in eastern Washington offers the best chance of rescuing Snake River salmon from the brink of extinction. The letter concluded by saying, "biologically, the choice of how to best recover these fish is clear, and the consequences of maintaining the status quo are all but certain."

"The critically depressed status of the Snake basin salmon and steelhead stocks and the need for immediate decisive restoration action cannot be overstated," said Dr. Richard Williams, a University of Idaho research professor, lead author of the 1996 Return to the River report, and current chair of the Independent Scientific Advisory Board. "Continuation of status quo management and recovery programs or the politically palatable slight variations presently favored by virtually all of the Northwest governors and Congressional delegations will doom many Snake basin stocks to certain extinction within the next one to three decades. Recovery of the upper basin stocks can only be achieved by restoration of natural ecological functions in major key habitats such as the lower Snake River and the John Day reach of the mainstem Columbia."

Earl Weber, a fisheries scientist for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland, said "it is clear that the presence of eight dams between the spawning grounds and the ocean has had disastrous impacts on all Snake River salmon stocks. It is also clear that the engineering solutions haven't mitigated for the losses. If we are to recover these stocks, our only choice left is to restore part of the river to its natural state."

The Clinton Administration is due to decide by December 1999 on a long-term recovery plan for Snake River salmon that could call for partially-removing the four lower Snake River dams. The two other options under consideration are maintaining the status quo, whereby most young fish are barged and trucked around the dams during their journey to the ocean, and improving the juvenile fish transportation program in concert with massive fish flows from southern Idaho irrigation reservoirs.

"It is painfully obvious that 20 years of technological fixes have not overcome the problems caused by the four lower Snake River dams," said Dr. Robert Behnke, a Colorado State University fisheries professor long recognized as one of the world's foremost experts on salmonids. "Either we change course now and restore the lower Snake to a semblance of a river, or we will likely lose forever a unique and precious genetic resource that cannot be replaced. It would be a terrible tragedy if we allowed the salmon and steelhead of the Snake River to go extinct."

Dr. Richard Williams (208) 888-5668
Earl Weber (503) 731-1300
Dr. Robert Behnke (970) 491-5320
Scott Bosse (208) 343-7481
Idaho Rivers United
Press Release Letter

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