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Snake River Dams Legislation is Bad News for Wild Steelhead

Category: In the News | Posted by: Paul Moinester | 7/28/17 | Comments: 0

Summary: Multiple courts have ruled that the federal government's approach to steelhead and salmon restoration on the Snake is misguided and a massive waste of taxpayer money. They've ordered the government to explore a new approach, but now new legislation authored by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is trying to mandate that we stick with our broken management strategy.
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Several weeks ago, a group of five congressional members from the Pacific Northwest led by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced H.R. 3134. This misguided legislation seeks to overturn years of scientifically backed judicial review and multiple federal court orders involving imperiled wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia Basin, including mitigating serious impacts from four dams on the lower Snake River.

With Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed wild salmon and steelhead populations on the Snake River in dire trouble, federal agencies have been working for more than twenty years to recover these once great salmonid runs. Two decades and $16 billion dollars later, not a single endangered population in this watershed has been recovered. Despite this dismal track record, the sponsors of this legislation seem intent on turning a blind eye to a mountain of scientific evidence that a new approach is needed, and are instead plowing forward using the same failed approaches.

If this legislation becomes law, the failed efforts of the past will become the failed approaches of our future by upholding the invalidated 2014 Federal Columbia River Power Systems (FCRPS) Biological Opinion until 2022. Making matters worse, the legislation would overturn the March 2017 court order to increase spring spill over federal dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers. These spills release water over dams during key periods, and help migrating juvenile salmon reach the ocean quicker and safer, which is currently the most effective short-term solution to improve survival of endangered salmonid populations. Such release are a primary factor in the abundant Chinook salmon returns to the Columbia Basin in recent years.

If we have learned anything from the past twenty years of failed recovery efforts, it is that the current approach is both fiscally irresponsible and highly ineffective. Given this extensive track record of failure, it makes no sense to knowingly choose to double down on this failed approach, especially with the Snake’s endangered salmon and steelhead populations inching ever closer to extinction.

Instead of turning our backs on the courts, the public, and science, we need to embark on the court-ordered inclusive process, which involves the public and is grounded in science and economics.

This factsheet addresses the misinformation and highlighs the harmful effects that HR 3144 will have on endangered salmon and communities if it becomes law.

Download (PDF, 108KB)

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