PORTLAND, OREGON--The Bush Administration released a draft plan today that concludes that dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers can stay because their presence doesn't threaten endangered salmon. However, fisheries biologists and environmentalists say the plan is woefully inadequate and promise to contest it in court.
The ruling reverses an assessment during the Clinton Administration that supported removing four dams along the lower Snake River to recover endangered fish runs should other measures fail. It also fulfills a Bush campaign pledge of 4 years ago to take dam removal off the table. The Administration's conclusions are part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA's) revised "biological opinion," a plan required under the Endangered Species Act that outlines the federal government's strategy for resuscitating endangered species. In May 2003, a U.S. District Court judge rejected the agency's previous blueprint for salmon recovery because it relied on measures "not reasonably certain to occur."
The revised plan focuses on retrofitting dams to improve fish passage, bolstering stocks by counting hatchery fish, improving river habitat, and killing or relocating predators of young salmon.
Critics argue that the new measures alone will make little difference, because dams account for as much as 90% of the human-induced mortality in some salmon runs. The new plan "is a huge step backward," says Earl Weber, a fisheries scientist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland.
Rob Masonis, northwest regional director of American Rivers in Seattle, Washington, says that the government redefined the problem to conclude that dams don't threaten salmon. It did so, he says, by considering dams as part of the natural environment and by attempting only to prevent the near-term extinction of endangered fish rather than recovering the species. "At best, the plan is a life-support system that will keep wild salmon and steelhead from going extinct in the short term," Masonis says.
NOAA's final biological opinion is set to be released shortly after the 2 November election.
The draft plan