White House Releases Final Snake River Plan


White House Releases Final Snake River Plan

White House Releases Final Snake River Plan

Environmental leaders encouraged that plan has been improved, but still have concerns


12/21/2000 — — A joint press release from:
American Rivers
Friends of the Earth
National Wildlife Federation
Sierra Club: Bill Arthur
Taxpayers for Common Sense
Trout Unlimited

American Rivers: Justin Hayes, 202-486-4209
Friends of the Earth: Shawn Cantrell, 206-235-5726
National Wildlife Federation: John Kober, 206-285-8707
Sierra Club: Bill Arthur, 206-954-9826
Taxpayers for Common Sense: Kathleen McNeilly, 202-251-6076
Trout Unlimited: Jeff Curtis, 503-827-5700

December 21, 2000. Washington, D.C.National environmental leaders were encouraged today to see that the Clinton Administration’s final plan to save endangered Columbia Basin salmon will keep alive the option of removing four dams on the Lower Snake River. It does so by creating a framework which provides that Congress may be asked as soon as three years from now to authorize dam removal, if near-term measures fail to meet the plan’s new performance standards for wild salmon recovery.

The environmental leaders said their optimism is tempered because the plan appears to lack key specifics about near-term actions, and relies on yet-unwritten annual implementation plans to guide agency actions over the next five years. As a result, it is not known if the near-term measures in the government’s plan will be strong enough to save the salmon. Thus the critical annual implementation plans may fall short, serving up the issue to Congress sooner rather than later.

While campaigning in the Northwest, President-elect Bush promised to save salmon but opposed dam removal. The plan challenges Bush’s Administration to act on his commitment to saving the salmon in its first three years, and provides for Congress to authorize dam removal if the new Administration fails to implement the plan or if its actions fail to restore the salmon.

Technically called a Biological Opinion of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the plan creates a framework under which the federal government agrees to pursue immediate actions to improve conditions for the wild salmon of the Columbia River Basin. If those fail, or are not sufficiently implemented, the plan would trigger the removal of the four salmon-killing dams on the Snake River in Washington State. Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built these dams in the ’60s and ’70s, the salmon populations, which once numbered in the millions, have crashed. Now every population of Snake River salmon is either extinct or listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The final plan improves on a draft released in July by moving up the decision date for Congressional action regarding dam removal to as early as 2003, with triggering of actual dam removal potentially in five years. The draft plan delayed the first consideration of dam removal for five to eight years and provided no clear path to Congress. The final plan also appears to improve performance standards that will be used to tell whether other measures have worked and whether dam removal is still necessary.

Beyond their endangered status, Snake River salmon have particular value because they account for a disproportionately large share of the restoration potential for wild salmon in the entire Columbia Basin. Seventy percent of the restoration potential for spring/summer chinook and summer steelhead lies within the Snake Basin. In addition to the vital role that salmon play in the culture and economy of the Northwest, they play a key role in the web of life, as they provide nutrients for everything from eagles to grizzly bears to the trees in the forest.

Remaining endangered salmon runs on the Snake River are predicted to go extinct as soon as 2017. Scientists say saving those runs will require the removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington, as well as a series of near-term measures that include: restoring natural water flows; protecting and restoring important spawning habitat; improving water quality; reforming fish hatcheries; and managing harvest by fishermen.

Environmental leaders say that while the plan is far from perfect, it warrants immediate funding and implementation while further improvements are sought-potentially through the courts. Further comments follow:

  • Rebecca Wodder, President, American Rivers:
    “Is this a ‘good plan?’ That all depends on what the Bush Administration does. Clinton is leaving a framework that Bush will have to build on. The science tells us the only way to do that is to remove those dams, and that we need to begin planning now before it is too late. We are committed to working with the Bush Administration to improve conditions for salmon, as long as preparations for dam removal begin-so the safety net will be ready when the time comes. It will be up to President Bush to prove that the salmon can be saved without dam removal.”
  • Brent Blackwelder, President, Friends of the Earth:
    “Snake River salmon were first listed under the Endangered Species Act nine years ago, under the last Bush Administration. After years of studies and inaction, the incoming Bush Administration must now implement the full range of restoration actions identified in this new plan, from improving habitat conditions to removing the four Lower Snake River dams.”
  • Mark Van Putten, President, National Wildlife Federation:
    “President-elect Bush now has squarely before him the issue of Northwest salmon recovery. There may not be unanimity on dam removal, but there is overwhelming consensus that, at a minimum, the steps recommended in this report must be aggressively implemented and fully funded. One of Mr. Bush’s first major environmental decisions will be whether or not to back these recommendations to the hilt, realizing that if they do not lead to salmon recovery, we must be ready to move ahead with removal of the four Lower Snake River dams.”
  • Carl Pope, President, Sierra Club:
    “The fate of wild salmon of the Northwest will be determined on President-elect Bush’s watch. To save our wild salmon, President-elect Bush will have to fully fund and aggressively implement all the measures in the biological opinion. In addition, if those measures fail, we need to be prepared to remove the dams as soon as possible. You can’t wait to build the storm shelter until the tornado is in your back yard. You have to start now.”
  • Ralph DeGennaro, President, Taxpayers for Common Sense:
    “This plan is a good starting point, but the new Congress and Administration must do everything they can to save these fish. If a strong safety net is not in place, including dam removal, this plan is just money flushed down the river. The price of failure, including reparations to tribes for broken treaties, is a cost the nation and taxpayers can’t afford.”
  • Charles Gauvin, President, Trout Unlimited, said that while the Clinton Administration’s improvements to their salmon recovery plan are a positive step forward, they are none-the-less only a partial step:
    “The conservation community and the vast majority of the scientific community believe that if we want to assure survival of the salmon, improvements to habitat, hatcheries, and harvest must be coupled with removal of the four salmon killing dams on the Lower Snake River. That fact must be understood and accepted if the ultimate goal of this plan is to save the salmon from extinction.”

Read the statement by Jeff Curtis, Trout Unlimited’s Western Conservation Director, in response to the Administration’s Snake River plan.

Date: 12/21/2000