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Newest Salmon "Recovery" Plan is Built to Flop

By Betsy Emery, Organizer and Outreach Coordinator

T o save the endangered populations of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers, the Oregon District Court tasked federal agencies with developing a comprehensive, fish-friendly plan for operating the Columbia River Hydrosystem, which comprises eight dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington. Just like the past five plans they've produced, this “new” plan resembles previous plans that failed to restore fish runs or pass legal scrutiny.

Once again, the federal agencies that manage this hydrosystem, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration, have rejected desperately needed innovative solutions in favor of the status quo. Their own scientific assessment determined that removing the four lower Snake River dams was the only alternative that would improve salmon returns enough to allow these species to recover from the risk of extinction. Ignoring the results of their own analysis, the agencies selected a management strategy very similar to the flexible spill agreement currently guiding river management -- a strategy that we know is failing salmon and steelhead throughout the basin.

We know that status quo management will not recover these fish or allow us to continue to fish these rivers. Status quo management just repeats the failed strategies that we’ve already been trying for the past two decades. The federal government is wasting time and money perpetuating the cycle of costly status quo management that does not yield meaningful results. The Bonneville Power Administration has spent over $17 billion in taxpayer dollars on plans and projects that have yet to recover a single imperiled population of the thirteen that are currently at risk of extinction. In fact, the number of salmon and steelhead that successfully reach the Snake River Basin continues to decline each year, dramatically affecting the sportfishing community and the rural economies that support our sport. We cannot afford another costly, illegal, ineffective salmon plan that is focused on preventing extinction rather than recovering abundant populations.

“This plan is placing us another two steps back from the proactive measures needed to save our iconic steelhead and salmon species,” Executive Director Chris Hager said. “Countless businesses, communities and ecosystems cannot sustain the continued loss of a resource that this plan disregards. Federal agencies are choosing to ignore pathways to recovery.”

While the ongoing legal and bureaucratic process of planning for salmon recovery continues, our fishing seasons get shorter and the chance we have to save these species becomes less likely. The science is clear: restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River is our best chance to recover populations of salmon and steelhead throughout the Northwest.

We must break out of this cycle of agency gridlock of inadequate planning, followed by litigation, followed by more inadequate planning. We need bold action. We are at risk of losing these endangered fish, as well as the incredible benefits and values they bring to our region if we do not do something substantial soon.

You can take action today. Tell your elected officials that we need their urgent and bold leadership for a comprehensive legislative package that will recover salmon in the Columbia River Basin, while minimizing impacts to farmers and power producers throughout the region.

Stay engaged with our campaign to restore a free-flowing Snake River by signing up for our contact list.