Plan to Remove Critical Habitat
The status quo is apparently good enough for the Bush administration, at least when salmon restoration is at issue.
This week, the administration announced a plan to abandon critical habitat designation for salmon in about 80 percent of the Northwest's potential salmon-bearing streams and half of prospective habitat in northern California in favor of focusing protection on waters salmon already inhabit.
The announcement is just plain short-sighted and typical of an administration that knows little about compromise and even less about the importance of salmon and steelhead to the Northwest culture and economy.
The new plan is also a reminder of where the administration's heart is. The impetus of the plan, if you'll recall, was a lawsuit brought by the National Association of Homebuilders. Their chief complaint was that it was becoming too difficult, under critical habitat designations, to build houses in wetlands. The NAH certainly has a corporate-friendly partner in the White House, so credit that organization for recognizing the value of political timing.
The administration, at every opportunity, appears to swagger into a Robert Conrad-like defensive crouch, place a battery on its shoulder and dare the opposition to knock it off. And it's likely this plan will elicit the desired response - environmental groups, fishing interests, American Indian tribes and perhaps even civic interests in the affected areas will most certainly challenge this idea.
Like much of the cloudy environmental picture in the American West, this issue will likely end up on a court docket, where the government will be forced to defend with taxpayer money the live-in-the-day philosophy of an administration that seems hell-bent on converting the open and wild expanses of our region into something that resembles the rest of the country.
And, coincidentally, the same day the feds throw this idea against a wall to see if it will stick, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its "final" plan for operating hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River system. Just a few short years ago, those dams, which produce minimal amounts (four per cent)of electricity for the Northwest power grid, were under serious consideration for removal. Now, under the latest Bush administration plan, the idea to invest $600 million a year for the next decade to construct removable fish weirs that will ensure salmon smolt have a better chance of making the trip to the Pacific.
Of course, the best way to ensure the fish make the trip to the salt is to simply remove a handful of the obsolete dams. Over the long run, that option is cheaper, too.
The environment got precious little attention during this year's presidential race, a tactical mistake on the part of the John Kerry camp, which failed to fully exploit the Bush administration's most glaring weakness. The question now, though, with the election in the past, is whether the environment can withstand four more years of abuse at the hands of an administration that's proved its willingness to roll back elementary and protective regulations for clean air and clean water.
Why should salmon be any different?
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