New Columbia fish plan is little changed


Associated Press

PORTLAND — The federal government’s management plan for protecting salmon and steelhead populations imperiled by federal dams in the Columbia River basin differs little from its earlier version and continues to rely heavily on habitat improvement.

The court-ordered plan, known as a biological opinion, was released by NOAA Fisheries Service on Jan. 17. Its various iterations have been litigated in court for more than two decades.

The most recent plan was issued in 2008 to cover a 10-year period through 2018, and a supplemental biological opinion was added in 2010. The plan was struck down in court in 2011 for the third time — this time for depending too much on habitat improvements whose benefits are unknown.

Conservation and fishing groups, Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe, which have challenged the previous plans in court, say the new version preserves the status quo and does little to help the fish. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the Columbia River basin, and some have been listed for more than 20 years.

Even as officials have spent millions on habitat restoration and are touting its benefits in this latest plan, they acknowledge that fish populations are barely hanging on and nowhere close to being recovered.

“The actions are designed to move us in a direction toward recovery and avoid jeopardy. The plan is not designed to achieve recovery,” said Barry Thom, deputy regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region.

Critics have long called for the government to examine the possibility of breaching four Snake River dams, increasing the water spilled over dams to allow more fish to escape a trip through turbines and increasing river flows.

Ten years ago, after rejecting yet another management plan, U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered the government to do spill, which allows water to pass over the dams when juvenile salmon are migrating to the ocean. By spilling water over the dams to help fish, authorities are giving up millions of dollars in revenue from electricity generated by turbines.

In 2011, Redden, who announced his retirement last year and stepped off the case, asked NOAA Fisheries to consider if more aggressive actions such as dam removal are necessary.

But the new plan does not consider the possibility of breaching dams or increasing spill, because officials say such actions aren’t needed. The government says habitat projects are starting to work, with the number of fish returning to spawn higher, and the plan will continue to protect the fish into the future.

Yet officials acknowledge that productivity — the number of the next generation of adults produced by returning spawning fish — was lower. That’s because, with the spawning population higher, there is less habitat in tributaries and not enough juvenile fish survive, officials said. Hence the need to restore more habitat.

Proponents of the plan praised the government’s habitat projects and pointed to last year’s large fall chinook salmon returns as evidence of improvement.

“More than 1 million fall chinook salmon returned to spawn last year, the highest numbers since Bonneville Dam opened in 1938,” said Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, which represents electric utility, agriculture, ports and other businesses.

But critics say that while restoring habitat could benefit fish, habitat by itself won’t cause salmon and steelhead to return. They say main stem passage is the survival bottleneck for the species, not a crowded habitat.

And while they agree some fish stocks are showing modest improvement, they are nowhere near recovery, said Todd True, an attorney with Earthjustice who represents environmental groups in the court case.

Only a tiny percent of adult fish are returning to the rivers, True said, and a large percentage of those are hatchery fish. On some runs, he said, up to 80 percent of returnees are hatchery fish.

“That doesn’t sound to me like habitat is beginning to work,” he said.

Critics also decried the plan for reducing spill on several dams and for not including separate measures to address the effects of climate change.

Officials said habitat projects already “help us buffer against future climate change impacts.”

Whether or not the plan is again challenged in court, it will be in place just for another four years. In short order, the government says it will need to start discussing another biological opinion that would be put in place in 2018.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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