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Legislators Propose New Salmon Plan

chinook salmon
Photo courtesy of Pacific Southwest Region USFWS via Flickr

Several northwest congressional members have proposed legislation that would override a federal judge’s ruling that called a plan to restore endangered salmon inadequate.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that a plan to restore salmon runs called the “biological opinion” did not do enough to protect the fish. It was the 4th time a federal judge had ruled against various federal plans to save endangered salmon on the Columbia and Snake River systems.

Now, four northwest Republican lawmakers, including Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, have proposed legislation that would throw out the judge’s ruling and implement the biological opinion plan through the year 2020.

McMorris Rodgers says the collaborative effort to put the plan together and current efforts to improve fish runs have been very successful. “At a time when we’re seeing record salmon returns up the Columbia and Snake River systems, 97 percent of the salmon are making it past the dams now. We’re seeing because of fish ladders, technology at the dams can co-exist.”

But Steve Petit, a retired fish biologist who worked for Idaho Fish and Game, says that is completely untrue, and the latest salmon returns have been dismal. Petit says, “Well if you’ve been following the news at all, we’ve had to close seasons, we didn’t even have a chinook season on the Clearwater the runs are so low. The steelhead run this fall is going to the worse run in 40 years.”

The bill would also overturn the judge requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to spill more water for fish at eight Columbia and Snake River dams starting next year. Fish advocates, like Sam Mace of the Save our Wild salmon organization say increased spill would mean more juvenile fish making it to the ocean.  Mace says, “And the science is very clear, the more you operate the river like a river, rather than a series of lakes, the more abundant our salmon and steelhead runs are.”

The lawmakers who support the new proposed legislation worry that additional water spilled over dams will lead to lost power generation.

The lawmakers are also proposing the legislation to thwart an environmental review of the Biological Option plan, which calls for studying the possible breaching of the four lower Snake River dams.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.