Plan to save Northwest salmon falling short, says agency
However, the agency says the shortcomings can be fixed.
The report issued last week is the first of three planned reviews on the 10-year plan developed under the Clinton administration. The other two are scheduled for 2005 and 2008.
Adoption of the plan headed off a decision to breach four Snake River dams to let the river flow more naturally. In August, President Bush said his administration would work to improve salmon runs while retaining the four dams.
The recovery plan called for the fisheries service to rate the progress as being in the “green zone” if everything was going well, in the “red zone” if it was on “a path to disaster,” and in the “yellow zone” if otherwise, said Bob Lohn, the service’s regional director.
The agency chose the yellow zone.
“We’re making good progress. It’s not as fast as expected,” Lohn said. “There’s still room for improvement, but given a more realistic schedule, we believe the agencies can complete the progress they committed to make.”
The report reviewed efforts by three agencies: the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation, which operate large dams on the two rivers, and the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the hydroelectricity the dams produce.
The rivers’ stocks of salmon, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, are at a fraction of their historic abundance.
Cyclical ocean conditions in recent years have helped them rebound significantly, giving the agencies some breathing room, Lohn said.
The report drew criticism from environmentalists, who have already won a court ruling that the recovery plan is deficient.
“You have an inadequate (plan) that is not being adequately implemented, and that spells trouble,” said Rob Ma-sonis of American Rivers in Seattle. “It relies on voluntary, unspecified actions that are going to happen sometime down the road.”
He did credit the fisheries service for candidly assessing the plan’s progress.
The dams offer a deadly obstacle course to young salmon migrating to the ocean, with spinning metal blades, poisonous gases and water-pressure changes. To save them, dam managers collect about 80 percent of the salmon and load them into fish tanks on barges, which carry them past the dams.
However, scientists found that many of the transported salmon later die, probably because of stress or disease in the crowded barges.
“There’s nothing out there to suggest that you can recover wild Snake River salmon stocks to harvestable, self-sustaining levels without dam removal,” Masonis said.
Removing four large dams on the lower Snake River would raise the cost of generating power and prevent barges from carrying grain and other goods from ports as far upstream as Lewiston, Idaho.
To avoid that, the Clinton administration laid out the program to boost salmon stocks by improving river conditions, limiting the number of salmon that can be caught and changing how fish hatcheries operate so they don’t overwhelm wild stocks and damage their gene pool.
In June 2004, the fisheries service plans to issue a new recovery plan for the Snake and Columbia stocks to satisfy a ruling by U.S. District Judge James A. Redden of Portland.
In May, Redden threw out the government’s Columbia and Snake rivers salmon recovery plan as inadequate and gave the Bush administration one year to come up with a new plan.
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