WASHINGTON - Seventy Democrats in the House of Representatives recently
signed a letter characterizing President George W. Bush's policies as "an
enormous step backwards" against salmon recovery.
The administration released a final plan for salmon restoration in the
Northwest last November, with a price tag of $6 billion. But the
congressional letter contends that the plan and other policy decisions
continue the controversial barging of salmon around dams yet do little to
restore salmon habitat, either by limiting development or decommissioning
Bush has stated he will not allow decommissions; and in that, said Rep. Sam
Farr, D-Calif., "The president is even ignoring the best brain trust that
he put together in creating the oceans commission."
The congressional letter cites a U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy final
report "as evidence that salmon populations are dangerously low and that
habitat loss due to development and dam construction are some of the
primary causes for this problem."
Farr added that the administration's plan favors farmed salmon, which can
be released into the wild in sufficient numbers to maintain a salmon
presence but which compete with wild stock salmon for a shrinking habitat
and food supply.
According to numerous biologists, sustainable salmon recovery can only come
from wild stock salmon: hardy, adaptable, and dwindling along with their
habitat. In this vein, the congressional letter condemns the administration
for "giving up on recovery and settling merely for the goal of survival of
these stocks and probable loss of communities dependent on these fish."
Similarly, numerous Northwest tribes have criticized successive
administrations and dam management regimes for an emphasis on what seems
good for humans in their relationship with salmon, rather than on what
proves good for salmon in relation to their habitat.
Salmon advocate Jeremy Brown, speaking Feb. 9 at the public launch of the
letter and the economic impact study that occasioned its release, said the
Bush recovery plan simply fulfills a court requirement to have a plan in
place. The need is for actual recovery of salmon, not a plan on paper, he
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ranking Democrat on the House Fisheries and
Oceans subcommittee, spearheaded the letter and spoke for historic salmon
tribes. Salmon recovery is "nutritional justice" for these tribes, which he
said are "now plagued by obesity" and related health problems. "Since dams
and irrigation appeared 40 years ago ... salmon have become too scarce to
catch and too pricey to buy."
The economic impact study that prompted the congressional letter found that
full steelhead and salmon recovery could mean $544 million annually to the
Idaho economy alone.
An accompanying press release from the Northwest sport fishing industry
makes risky statistical extrapolations to the neighboring states of
Washington and Oregon, and based on them suggests that full regional
recovery would mean $5.5 billion a year to the Northwest. But, the release
adds, "even half of that number would bring about an economic boom and an
exponential increase to jobs in the Northwest."
The congressional letter advocates a "scientifically credible, legally
defensible" salmon recovery plan, leading to "harvestable populations of
salmon sufficient to support fishing-dependent coastal and rural economies
and the tens of thousands of jobs a revitalized fishing industry can once
again provide. A federal salmon policy that does not meet these vitally
important criteria should and must be discarded to make room for one that
Salmon are a coast-to-coast issue, Pallone said, noting that the Penobscot
Nation in Maine is restoring Atlantic salmon in its Penobscot River
Restoration Project. That project represents an agreement among tripartite
sovereigns - tribal, state and federal governments - as well as nonprofit
organizations; and while its $49.7 million price is proving problematic,
the tribe isn't giving up. "We do a lot with salmon," said Penobscot Chief
John Banks, director of natural resources for the Penobscot, added that the
project is "a last chance to save wild Atlantic salmon in the lower 48."
The Penobscot River hosts the only remaining meaningful - about 1,000 fish
- run of wild Atlantic salmon in all of these states, he said.
The project hopes to restore 11 anadromous (fish that live in salt water
and migrate to freshwater streams and lakes to reproduce) species,
including the Atlantic salmon, Banks said.
The project plans to purchase and take down two Penobscot River dams
located between the salmon spawning waters and the sea. At a third dam, a
"fishway" would be installed on a critical tributary, enabling salmon to
bypass the dam. Turbines from the two decommissioned dams would be utilized
at underused dams on bypass channels that are not salmon-critical, helping
the project generate 95 percent of the power lost in the dam takedowns.
Banks called the project an international model.
"The Bush administration has signed onto this project and they've been very
supportive of it, other than to provide appropriations. Gale Norton
[Secretary of Interior] was here last June [applauding the project]. But
she didn't bring her checkbook."
After the Maine congressional delegation and other allies prevailed on a $1
million appropriation in fiscal year 2005, Banks said, the president's 2006
budget request overlooked the project. "They could put some money into this
project, that's what they could do."