Federal Government Gets Failing Grades in Salmon Plan Report Card

Federal Government Gets Failing Grades in Salmon Plan Report Card

Federal Government Gets Failing Grades in Salmon Plan Report Card

Jeff Curtis
Western Conservation Director
Trout Unlimited
503-827-5700 x. 11

2/27/2002 — Portland, OR/Washington, DC — The Administration, Congress, and federal agencies charged with implementing the federal governments plan to restore imperiled Columbia-Snake Basin salmon and steelhead have dramatically failed to meet the plans requirements in its first year, according to a study released today by the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition (SOS). SOS is a nationwide coalition of conservation organizations, sport and commercial fishing associations, businesses, river groups, and taxpayer advocates collaborating to protect and restore sustainable wild runs of America’s Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead.

The study, called the Salmon Plan Report Card, assigns letter grades to the Administration and relevant federal agencies on their progress in the first year of the plan, which was approved in December 2000. The Salmon Plan, released as the Biological Opinion on the federal dams in the Columbia – Snake River Basin, details 199 specific measures to be implemented over 10 years to protect salmon and steelhead from the adverse impacts of the federal dam system, and restore species that have suffered dramatic losses.

For its first year of implementation, the Administration and federal agencies responsible for salmon recovery received five failing grades and one D for the six major areas of emphasis. Grades were assigned based on standards and timelines contained within the Salmon Plan itself. Of the 199 measures, 129 required action in 2001, the Salmon Plans first year. SOS analysts discovered through government reports, agency websites, and conversations with agency officials that only a fraction of those were actually acted upon in 2001.

The federal government failed to implement more than 75 percent of the measures in their own plan during this first year, and lawmakers have thus far failed to secure funding to implement the plan as well, said Nicole Cordan, policy director for Save Our Wild Salmon. At this rate, well reach the first official Salmon Plan check-in point in 2003 without having seen the federal government even try to implement its own plan. Its a shell game without a pea.

The Salmon Plan calls for three check-in points in 2003, 2005, and 2008 to assess whether the measures are working. If it is clear at those points that the plan is not working or has not been funded, the agencies will be forced to consider more effective measures, including partial removal of the four dams on the lower Snake River. SOS and its member groups have sided with the majority of scientific opinion that lower Snake dam removal is a necessary component of a successful recovery plan, but the federal government to date has resisted that option. During his campaign, the president committed to salmon recovery, but insisted it could be accomplished through technology, and not dam removal.

The president pledged during his campaign to save Columbia and Snake River salmon, said Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club. During a speech in Washington State he said, these fish are a wonder of nature and they must be preserved. This Report Card clearly documents the Administrations failure to keep that promise.

The Salmon Plan acknowledges that dam removal would provide the surest route to recovery for Snake River fish, but recommends that the dams be left in place in favor of a host of extensive and expensive alternative measures. Those measures include barging and trucking young salmon around the dams, increasing river flows using storage water from Idaho, and spilling water over the dams to aid fish passage.

Dam removal should have been part of the federal governments salmon recovery plan to begin with, said Bert Bowler, a fisheries biologist with Idaho Rivers United. But the fact that the Administration failed to get anything done during the first year shows the folly of the 2000 Plan. We need leadership from the Administration and the agencies responsible for saving salmon, not more excuses and promises.

Among the specific failures detailed in the Report Cards findings:

  • Federal agencies failed to complete over 75 percent of the actions outlined in their own plan.
  • Necessary water levels, flows, and improvements at the Columbia-Snake dams were not achieved in 2001. This failure resulted in the lowest in-river out-migration survival rate for spring/summer chinook salmon (30 percent) and steelhead (4 percent) since they were listed under the Endangered Species Act. Both of these 2001 migration rates are 20 percent lower than in 2000.
  • The Administration hasnt asked for, and Congress has not appropriated, the money needed to implement the plan.

Funding in Congress and in the presidential budget for the Salmon Plan has been a particular focus of conservation groups. Internal documents obtained from NMFS reveal the agency has estimated that implementation would have required roughly double the funding provided for the fiscal year 2002 budget and proposed for fiscal 2003. The groups argue that the Salmon Plan was designed to be implemented in full, and that partial funding thus renders its overall strategy ineffective.

“Everyone loses if the Salmon Plan fails, especially the wild fish it was designed to restore,” said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. “We’ve urged the federal government to either support its Salmon Plan and give it a chance to succeed or re-direct its attention to actions that will.”

Salmon advocates maintain that further extinctions of wild salmon still loom, and thus that prompt implementation of recovery measures, including some contained in the Salmon Plan, is vital. Salmon advocates have also cited the unusual convergence of natural factors such as favorable ocean conditions and good water years in the late 90s as an opportunity now to help beleaguered salmon and steelhead while they are on an upswing an upswing that biologists still believe is too low to recover wild fish. The findings contained in the Salmon Plan Report Card, however, show clearly that federal fish managers and decision-makers have recognized neither the urgency nor the opportunity.

“By neglecting this plan now were wasting time wild salmon dont have and squandering a rare opportunity to make real progress toward their recovery,” said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. “We know from the sheer numbers of fish coming back that the ocean has been good, but indications are that won’t last for long. We should be seizing the opportunity to do all we can for fish now, not wasting more time and money on half-measures and wait-and-see strategies. We may not get the chance again.”

To see the full Salmon Plan Report Card, go to www.wildsalmon.org.

For more information: Bill Arthur, Sierra Club 206-378-0114 x. 307
Bert Bowler, Idaho Rivers United 208-343-7481
Nicole Cordan, Save Our Wild Salmon 503-230-0421 x. 12
Michael Garrity, American Rivers 202-347-7550

Date: 2/27/2002