Administration Officials Brief States
Press Release from the President on the BiOp
Administration officials today briefed representatives of the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana on federal efforts to restore salmon in the Columbia and Snake Rivers, describing the broad outlines of the long-term strategy they are developing, and assuring the states that they are on track to completing the draft plan by late June.
George Frampton, Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and other Administration officials also assured the states that they, as well as affected Tribes, will have opportunity to review and comment on the proposed strategy before final decisions are made later this year.
"The federal agencies are working closely to complete this comprehensive, unified federal strategy as quickly as possible, and we are fully committed to having it in place by early fall," said Frampton.
Frampton emphasized that the strategy will address salmon concerns throughout the Columbia-Snake River basin, going well beyond the question of whether four dams on the Lower Snake River should be breached. "This is bigger than the Snake River," he said. "We need an aggressive approach for the entire Columbia River basin that mobilizes the full range of recovery measures, from restoring habitat to improving hatcheries. We can't look at dams alone."
The draft strategy to be presented in June will be outlined in two documents: the National Marine Fisheries Services' draft biological opinion on operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System; and a draft All-H Paper providing greater detail on proposed federal actions to restore all 12 endangered salmon stocks in the Columbia basin. Once final, these documents will help shape the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' final environmental impact statement on salmon concerns on the Lower Snake River, which is due later this year.
In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service intends to release next month a draft biological opinion identifying measures to restore other resident fish and aquatic species throughout the Columbia River basin.
The proposed salmon recovery strategy will include specific measures to improve river flows; modify dam operations; protect and restore salmon habitat; reform hatchery operations; and continue limits on salmon harvest.
With respect to the Lower Snake dams, the proposed strategy would establish a set of "performance measures" to gauge the success of salmon recovery efforts; and a "trigger" mechanism that will put before Congress the question of dam breaching if, within a certain number of years, it is clear that recovery targets are not being met.
"Our goal from the start has been a strategy built on the best possible science," said Frampton. "While the science suggests that dam breaching could significantly benefit salmon recovery, it also suggests that other measures might lead to recovery. In other words, the science does not clearly indicate that breaching is the only possible option; nor does it allow us to take that option off the table."
Given the scientific uncertainties, Frampton said, the best course is to pursue all other reasonable options while preparing to undertake breaching, if it proves necessary. "This strategy would not sidestep or delay a decision on breaching," he said. "Rather, it would address the issue head on by establishing firm parameters under which breaching would be pursued."
Ultimately, a decision to breach the dams would require authorization from Congress. Under the proposed strategy, work would begin immediately on the technical studies that would accompany any such recommendation to Congress, and on a plan to ease the economic impact should breaching take place.
Frampton said that CEQ is working in concert with the federal agencies to complete details of the draft strategy.
"Each of the agencies plays a vital role in this process," he said. "Given the enormous complexities of the issue, and the uncertainties in the science, there are bound to be honest differences of opinion among experts. The process of working through those differences naturally focuses much of the attention on the areas where people disagree. But there is far more agreement among the agencies than disagreement, and we are very close to working through any remaining differences."
Frampton also noted that successful recovery of the Columbia-Snake salmon runs will require action on the part of the states, Tribes, and other stakeholders as well. "The federal government will do its part, but can not achieve these goals on its own," he said. "We want to work in partnership with the region to explore the stakes and tradeoffs, and achieve consensus on a coordinated strategy that gets the job done."
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