On May 5 NOAA fisheries released its latest court ordered Biological Opinion intended to guide the operation of the Snake and lower Columbia hydrosystem in a manner safe for the 13 threatened Snake/ Columbia River anadramous fish stocks. This was the agency’s third attempt, the previous two biological opinions didn’t meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act to recover listed species.
In the previous Biop, NOAA contended that it was not required to consider the effects of dams on the fish populations in the basin because the dams were an immutable part of the environment. NOAA was roundly defeated in the courtroom and sent scurrying back to the drawing board to come up with a plan that wasn’t an embarassment.
Snake River fish stocks have plummeted since the four lower Snake River dams were built. Federal District Court judge James Redden who has been presiding over the matter has warned of harsh consequences if the newest plan isn’t sufficient. It is against this backdrop that the newest plan was released.
Not surprisingly the NOAA concluded that the hydrosystem, with what it sees as improvements including removeable spillways, increased barging, predator control, habitat improvement and changes in spill practices will be sufficient to ensure recovery. Recently almost all of the affected tribes dropped their opposition to the newest plan in exchange for securing 900 million dollars of habitat and other fisheries improvments on tribal lands.
The State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe and many conservation groups including the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition longstanding plaintiffs appear unimpressed by the Feds most recent plan. In fact, these groups are concerned that the newest Biop does even less than the previous plans to protect salmon. Governor Kulongoski recently outlined Oregon’s opposition stating that the new plan reduces flow and spill and fails to make meaningful changes to the dams instead relying on hatcheries and habitat improvments that the Governor feels are insufficient to recover native salmon.
We’ve all seen this dance before–the feds claiming that their plan will recover salmon, conservation groups and Oregon asserting the plan is a roadmap for extinction.
It looks like this plan won’t be leaving the courtroom anytime soon.