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New Columbia fish plan like othersEmphasis remains on better habitat, not activists’ dam removal proposals.

Herald and News 1/18/14

     PORTLAND (AP) — The federal government’s management plan for protecting salmon and steelhead populations imperiled by federal dams in the Columbia River basin differs little from its earlier version and continues to rely heavily on habitat improvement.

   The court-ordered plan, known as a biological opinion, was released by NOAA Fisheries Service on Friday. Its various iterations have been litigated in court for more than two decades.   the Nez Perce Tribe, which have challenged the previous plans in court, say the new version preserves the status quo and does little to help the fish. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the Columbia River basin, and some have been listed for more than twenty years.

   Proponents of the plan praised the government’s habitat projects and pointed to last year’s large fall chinook salmon returns as evidence of improvement.

   “More than 1 million fall chinook salmon returned to spawn last year, the highest numbers since Bonneville Dam opened in 1938,” said Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, which  

   The most recent plan was issued in 2008 to cover a 10-year period through 2018, and a supplemental biological opinion was added in 2010. The plan was struck down in court in 2011 for the third time — this time for depending too much on habitat improvements whose benefits are unknown.

   Conservation and fishing groups, Oregon and   represents electric utility, agriculture, ports and other businesses.

   Critics have long called for the government to examine the possibility of breaching four Snake River dams, increasing the water spilled over dams to allow more fish to escape a trip through turbines and increasing river flows.

   Ten years ago, after rejecting yet another management plan, U.S. District Judge James Redden ordered the government to spill, which allows water to pass over the dams when juvenile salmon are migrating to the ocean. By spilling water over the dams to help fish, authorities are giving up millions of dollars in revenue from electricity generated by turbines.  

   In 2011, Redden, who announced his retirement last year and stepped off the case, asked NOAA Fisheries to consider if more aggressive actions such as dam removal are necessary.

   But the new plan does not consider the possibility of breaching dams or increasing spill, because officials say such actions aren’t needed. The government says habitat projects are starting to work, with the number of fish returning to spawn higher, and the plan will continue to protect the fish into the future.



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