U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   06/24/2003
 
Pat Ford
Save Our Wild Salmon

Implementation of the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2000 Biological Opinion for listed anadromous fish regarding operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

On behalf of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition (SOS) and our combined membership of more than four million people nationwide, I thank Chairman Crapo and members of the subcommittee for holding this hearing today. Northwest sport and commercial fishermen and women, fishing businesses and conservationists thank you for this leadership.

Chairman Crapo, you render a service to your state and region by inquiring into the status of Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead recovery efforts, including the status of current federal and regional financial investments. Wild salmon and steelhead are an icon of the Northwest, deeply woven into the lives, communities, economies, and cultures of its people. Salmon and steelhead support many thousands of family-wage jobs, bring hundreds of millions of dollars into Northwest communities every year, help assure community stability and health, signify and assure clean water for millions of people, and nourish the spiritual and material cultures of the Northwest. W e also note that abundant wild salmon and steelhead in the rivers and streams of the Columbia Basin constitute a major part of the solemn promises made in the treaties between our country and the native people of the Northwest. Those promises have been sorely neglected. We thank you for seeing further and more deeply into the real stakes, values, and benefits of salmon and steelhead recovery.

This subcommittee has asked those testifying to assess the status of Columbia and Snake River wild salmon and steelhead recovery. Since December 2000, the federal salmon plan - also known as the 2000 Biological Opinion for the federal system of dams - has governed those efforts. This plan acknowledged that partial removal of four dams on the lower Snake River is the surest scientific means to restore Snake River salmon, but opted instead for an everything­but-dam-removal approach. Federal, state, and tribal representatives estimated the plan’s implementation cost at nearly $1 billion annually. Its implementation requires close coordination amongst 13 federal agencies, 13 federally recognized Indian nations, four states, and many local governments and private entities. Most Northwest elected leaders, including yourself, Mr. Chairman, generally supported this plan - but you were one of the few to note at the time the profound managerial and fiscal challenge that implementing it presented.

Your fears were justified. In 2001 and 2002, Save Our Wild Salmon released detailed report cards on federal implementation of this plan. We found that the federal agencies are implementing less than 30% of the plan’s required measures, and receiving about 50% of its required funding. Those two Report Cards are attached here for the record.

If this pattern of failure to implement the plan is examined more closely, one finds the failure greatest in precisely those measures which scientific analyses have repeatedly shown are the most beneficial to salmon and steelhead: those which restore stream, river, and estuary habitats, including of course the critical migratory habitat. Put simply, fish need water. Fish need functioning rivers. Yet these are the areas where the least has been done to protect fish.

Others have reached similar conclusions. In 2002, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), at your request, analyzed salmon recovery spending to date and what that spending had accomplished. GAO found that more than $3.3 billion had been spent on salmon recovery in the previous 20 years, with little to no measurable improvement for that investment.) NOAA Fisheries (formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service) released a report finding that, despite recent adult salmon returns, wild Snake River salmon are in as bad shape now as when they were listed more than 10 years ago.2 NOAA’s recent analysis of the implementation of the federal salmon is also illuminating. That analysis states “...unless we can quickly develop alternative means of assessment, at the 2003 check-in NOAA Fisheries will need to evaluate whether there will be greater uncertainty associated with the Opinion’s reliance on offsite mitigation that will remain beyond the 2005 check-in and any significance for avoiding jeopardy. 3 And, as we now know, the salmon plan which the Administration has failed to implement was itself not sufficient to meet the test of law; a federal court has ruled it illegal.

As you know, in recent months, the flurry of concern around BPA’s management of both its fiscal and public purpose responsibilities has been swirling. Congress has requested GAO reports that focus on BPA’s financial situation and fish and wildlife obligations. Similarly, regional concern (noted in editorials, hearings, etc.) has risen greatly. Earlier this month, GAO testified before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee stating that `EPA’s two roles, as supplier of economical and reliable power and as protector of fish and wildlife, inherently conflict ... [this conflict] will likely become more intense if growing power demands bump up against increased efforts to mitigate damage to fish and wildlife.”4 BPA’s financial troubles are exacerbating this conflict of interest.

None of this is surprising. In 1995, a NOAA Fisheries endorsed group of independent, tribal, state, and federal biologists, after four years of investigation and $7 million, found that partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams was the surest and best means to restore abundant Snake River salmon. In 2000, the Northwest Power Planning Council’s Multi-Species Framework Approach for the Columbia River Basin showed that lower Snake River dam removal would significantly increase Snake River salmon populations at a competitive cost when compared with other alternatives that would require costly and truly aggressive “offsite” measures involving significant water acquisitions and severe land management restrictions. 5 And just earlier this month, the scientific journal, Conservation Biology published a study by a U.S. Fish & Wildlife fisheries biologist that shows once again that partial dam removal was the surest and best option for recovery of Snake River salmon and steelhead.6 Taking science and law together, we have just two real options for salmon recovery - partial removal of the lower Snake River dams or significant water acquisition and severe land management restrictions.

The Northwest governors recently sent a letter to President Bush suggesting that the rewrite of the federal salmon plan should largely stay on the current course. We strongly disagree. As a matter of law and treaty, minor changes will not suffice. The people and communities of the Northwest need a real plan. Staying the course ensures several things that none of us wants: it ensures the ultimate extinction of salmon in the Snake River and the jobs and communities dependent upon them. Staying the course means the ship of salmon recovery will hit the rocks and break apart. Clearly the sirens of the status quo were singing and clouding the judgment of our regional leaders.

We urge you to close your ears to those sirens of status quo, to chart a safer, more productive path for the future of Pacific Northwest salmon. We urge you to press this Administration to craft a plan that is achievable; that follows the science; and that protects salmon-based communities and our nation’s treaty obligations by ensuring self-sustaining harvestable salmon.

In particular we ask you to:

(1) secure an Administration process on the rewrite of the federal salmon plan that formally involves the states and Tribes, and that provides opportunity for public comment;

(2) ensure that all options for salmon recovery are on the table, including the partial removal of the four lower Snake River dams;

(3) urge an independent regional economic analysis of the benefits now derived from salmon and steelhead, and the benefits available if abundant harvestable wild salmon and steelhead are restored to the Columbia and Snake River Basin;

(4) support an assured, multi-year, dependable salmon investment fund at BPA in the amount of at least $230 million/year, with fishery agencies and Tribes sharing formal decision-making on its spending with the federal representatives.

As the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark begins, we hope that this hearing is simply the start of our nation’s efforts to chart a new course on salmon recovery, to think critically, act honestly, and restore fully salmon and steelhead to the Snake and Columbia rivers. These fish - the same fish that saved the Lewis and Clark expedition from starvation - are a part of our nation’s history, the essence of our moral and legal obligations to the Native Peoples of the Northwest, integral to cultures and religions, and essential to the economic fabric of the region.

Thank you again for holding this hearing and for beginning a process to shed light on how best to protect this economic, religious, and magical resource for generations to come. SOS stands ready to assist you in those efforts.

_______________________

[1] United States General Accounting Office, Columbia River Basin Salmon and Steelhead: Federal Agencies’ Recovery Responsibilities, Expenditures and Actions, July 2002 (GAO-02-612).

[2] Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Biological Review Team Draft Report of Updated Status of Listed ESUs of Salmon and Steelhead, 2003.

[3] National Marine Fisheries Service, Findings Regarding Adequacy of the Endangered Species Act 2003/2003-2007 Implementation Plan for the Federal Columbia River Power System, May 14, 2003.

[4] Jim Wells, Director, Natural Resources and Environmental Team, U.S. GAO, Testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee (June 4, 2003).

[5] Northwest Power Planning Council, Human Effects Analysis of the Multi-Species Framework Alternatives, February 2000.

[6] Wilson, Paul H., Using Population Projection Matrices to Evaluate Recovery Strategies for Snake River Spring and Summer Chinook Salmon, Conservation Biology, Vol. 17, No. 3, June 2003.