Feds Lay Out Choices for Restoring the Salmonby Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune - November 17, 1999
Agencies say breaching would be part of the best plan
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Removing four lower Snake River dams remains part of the most effective strategy to save some Columbia Basin salmon from extinction, but the Northwest needs to discuss all options before deciding how to proceed, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Will Stelle, regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, emphasized that the federal government is interested only in providing information to help decide. Congress is responsible for authorizing dam removal and paying for it.
"At the end of the day, whether we are successful in that recovery effort will depend on the quality and durability of commitment in the Northwest," Stelle said.
"These options don't reflect any decisions by the federal agencies. The only game plan is to lay out some of the basic choices and help stimulate that honest debate."
Stelle and regional heads of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service presented what is known as the "Four H Working Paper," a range of options for managing salmon harvest, hatcheries, habitat and hydroelectric dams that will serve as a plan for restoring salmon on the brink of extinction.
It is part of a series of federal hearings and studies converging on a decision next year on whether to breach four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington, where spring and summer chinook face likely extinction in the next 10 years and steelhead in the next 100.
The most effective way to restore salmon in the Snake River would be to breach the four dams in the lower river, increase federal regulation to protect habitat, reduce overall production of fish in hatcheries while increasing efforts to artificially produce wild fish, and allow minimal amounts of fishing.
Short of that, the working paper set out options for habitat protection, which means reduced logging and increased regulation of farming and ranching, cutbacks in fishing on the ocean as well as in the river, and reduced hatchery production.
As part of the federal commitment to remain neutral during this debate, the Army Corps of Engineers will not identify a preferred alternative when it issues a draft environmental impact statement in mid-December on whether to remove the dams, Stelle added.
The decision will not be made until the final EIS is issued.
The neutral role NMFS set for itself left environmentalists feeling frustrated, but industrial and agricultural river users encouraged.
"Although dam breaching has not been eliminated as a possible future option, the federal agencies have removed it from its silver bullet status to one of several means to aid recovery," said Bruce Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance, which represents aluminum smelters, barge operators and irrigators who want to keep the dams.
Chris Zimmer of Save Our Wild Salmon, which wants to see the dams removed, said his organization wants NMFS to provide more leadership, but is encouraged the agency has made it clear that keeping the dams leaves options that also carry economic pain.
"What NMFS needs to do is say from a biological perspective that this is the set of measures required to save these fish," Zimmer said. "The easy choices have all been made. NMFS now is telling us we need to choose between a set of options that all provide certain amounts of economic disruption."
The paper suggested five goals for a regional salmon recovery plan: protect salmon and other species from extinction, conserve the ecosystems where they live, restore salmon to a point that assures Indian tribes will be able to harvest fish as required by treaty, balance the needs of other species, and minimize the adverse effects on humans.
The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, which represents Indian tribes with treaty rights to fish for salmon, did not immediately return calls for comment.
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