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Biologists for Fisheries Agency Endorse Dams Plan - Columbia and Snake rivers

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  • Teresa Binstock
    November 1, 2007 Biologists for Agency Endorse Dams Plan By FELICITY BARRINGER http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/01salmon.html SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 31 —
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2007
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      November 1, 2007

      Biologists for Agency Endorse Dams Plan

      By FELICITY BARRINGER
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/01/us/01salmon.html


      SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 31 — Federal fisheries officials in Seattle on
      Wednesday endorsed, with minor modifications, a plan for the government’s
      continued operation of the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake
      Rivers. They said it did not jeopardize the survival of 13 stocks of
      salmon and steelhead that the government must protect under the Endangered
      Species Act.

      The endorsement, a draft analysis from the National Marine Fisheries
      Service, agreed with dozens of proposed protective actions that would
      provide enhanced measures to get juvenile fish past the dams as they swim
      seaward, improve habitat in the river and discourage predators like
      California sea lions and Caspian terns.

      Wednesday’s draft represents the fisheries agency’s third effort to find a
      binding, legally acceptable solution to the Northwest’s tug of war between
      salmon and dams.

      The agencies operating the dams are required by law to consult with
      federal biologists about their impact on endangered and threatened species
      and what they intend to do about it.

      The opinion by the fisheries service, a part of the National Oceanic and
      Atmospheric Administration, made no mention of the possibility of removing
      four dams on the lower Snake River that sit on the annual migration route
      of some of the more imperiled species. Many environmentalists and
      scientists see these four dams as the deadliest obstacle these fish face.

      Federal officials said the new plan’s approach to the recovery of the 13
      stocks was significantly different from an approach they offered three
      years ago. That plan, which like Wednesday’s is called a “biological
      opinion,” was struck down by a federal judge as violating the Endangered
      Species Act. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling this year.

      Judge James A. Redden of Federal District Court in Portland, Ore., who has
      presided over the issue, has made clear he is willing to step in and
      direct the dams’ operation if he believes it is the only way to protect
      the fish. In a court hearing this summer, Judge Redden said: “I’m going to
      be very picky because I want a bi-op that works. This is a very, very,
      very, very important document.” Bob Lohn, the northwest regional
      administrator of the fisheries service, said in a conference call on
      Wednesday that the plan had been prepared with much more collaboration
      with interested groups like Indian tribes and commercial interests. Mr.
      Lohn added, “This plan is based on a much more detailed approach to the
      problem,” taking into account the needs of six dozen subgroups of fish.

      But environmentalists say the plan retreats from the status quo on one
      crucial issue. It permits reductions in the amount of water released from
      the dams that allows juvenile fish quick passage past them and away from
      the deadly turbines. Judge Redden has set release amounts since 2005.

      The opinion was condemned by environmental groups, from the Sierra Club to
      a regional group, Save Our Wild Salmon, as doing more for the Bonneville
      Power Administration than for the 13 troubled fish runs, two of which have
      very few wild fish left to reproduce outside hatcheries.

      The only difference between this plan and the two earlier ones rejected by
      the courts, they said, is the presentation, not the bottom line. “It’s the
      same pig in a different tutu, but it still can’t dance,” said Todd True, a
      lawyer for Earthjustice who represents environmentalists in this dispute.

      Steve Wright, administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration, said
      in the conference call that the modifications made to mitigate the dams’
      impact on fish would cost about $1 billion over the next 10 years. Were
      the four Lower Snake River dams to be breached, he said, the annual cost
      of replacing the lost power would be at least $450 million.

      *

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