New Federal management plan for Snake River Salmonids

Snake River Salmonids

Federal fisheries managers recently unveiled a comprehensive plan to restore runs of Salmon and Steelhead in the Snake river drainage while leaving current hydroelectric infrastructure in place.  Critics say the workarounds are not addressing the core issue and ultimate solution through dam removal, but the federal plan makes concessions that might be required in the future.

As reported by Reuters, The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration released a 262-page recovery plan that outlines strategies for restoring endangered populations of salmonids, and "calls for a myriad of measures to ease the increasingly treacherous passage of spring-summer Chinook salmon and steelhead trout through the Snake, a major tributary of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest."

Reuters went on to state, "The proposal hinges on a combination of efforts that include improving stream habitat, enhancing water quality and installing structural dam modifications along the Snake River system."

At a proposed cost of $139 million, the plan has drawn immediate criticism from environmental conservation groups, who say data showing that hydropower dams are the central biologically disruptive element in the issue, and are being downplayed or ignored.

"We've got 20 years of mounting science that the dams are the biggest problem and that dam removal is the surest way to recover the species," said Idaho Rivers United spokesman Greg Stahl.

Oregon Public Broadcasting covered the development as well, citing NOAA manager's commentary on the issue as follows:

"Rosemary Furfey, the NOAA Fisheries recovery coordinator for the species, said the proposed plan outlines all the usual suspects for boosting fish recovery, including improved habitat, better fish passage at dams and cooler water temperatures."

"But the recovery plan recognizes we may need to do even more than those," Furfey said

Future potential actions acknowledged in the plan include dam removal, but contingent on court rulings.  This could conceivably include one or all four of the major dam installations on the lower Snake, engineering undertakings that would dwarf the watershed pilot programs that resulted in the deconstruction of the dam on the Elwah river on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, a project now regarded as a spectacular success from a fisheries management standpoint.

Estimates for recovery of Salmon and Steelhead populations in the Snake to rebound enough to justify being taken off the Endangered Species List via the proposed federal strategies are from 50 to 100 years. It remains to be seen if these timelines are acceptable to conservation groups, native american interests, and the sporting community at large.

Public commentary on the plan is being encouraged, with input being taken through Dec 25.

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