WASHINGTON -- December 12 -- The Bush administrations new salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers (also known as a biological opinion), released today, is a major step backward for salmon and the people of the Northwest. Not only does this plan threaten the salmon and steelhead of the Columbia and Snake rivers, but it could set a dangerous precedent for other endangered species throughout the country.
Because the plan only seeks to slow the rate of decline caused by the dams, this plan will push the already imperiled wild salmon and steelhead of the Columbia and Snake rivers - once the largest salmon runs in the world - closer to the brink of extinction. The approach taken by this plan is like that of a doctor who decides its too much work to try and cure a patient, and instead decides just to delay the date of death.
Sadly, the administrations retreat away from a real recovery plan comes at a time when improved ocean conditions present an opportunity to take salmon off of what is at best a life support system and get them on the road to a lasting recovery.
By failing to chart a course to reverse salmon declines and recover this icon of the Northwest, the administration is abandoning all of the individuals, businesses, and communities who depend on wild salmon and have invested time and effort in their recovery.
The new plan is a rebuke to the will of the people of the Northwest, the governors of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, and many Members of Congress from the Northwest and around the country who have clearly stated their shared goal of recovering self-sustaining, harvestable wild salmon and steelhead to the Columbia and Snake rivers.
The administrations salmon plan throws money at the problem at the same time that it cynically seeks to lower expectations. Estimated to cost $6 billion over 10 years, the plan is dense with details about unproven and expensive techno-fixes like removable spillway weirs, meant to distract us from its shortcomings. What you will not see in the plan is the conclusion of the federal governments own scientists that these techno-fixes will provide very little improvement in salmon survival.
It is undisputed that dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers are the biggest salmon and steelhead killers. Yet the Bush administrations plan would attempt to meet its obligations to protect salmon with all the dams in place, operating much as they do today. There is no scientific basis for that position: for Snake River salmon, only removing the four lower Snake River dams has been shown to have the potential of recovering the fish to self-sustaining, fishable numbers. The new plan contains no information indicating that there is another path to recovery.
It is all but certain that a federal court will weigh in on whether the Bush administrations new salmon plan meets the requirements of the law. The approach taken by the new plan, if applied to other imperiled species, could hamper the recovery - and even the survival - of not only the Columbia Basins treasured wild salmon, but other endangered species throughout the United