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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 4.21.11




Smells Fishy

DeFazios role in the Columbia Basin salmon crisis

By Sheena Moore

"It gets even more complicated once theyre smoked.”

President Obama playfully joked about the mismanagement of salmon in his January State of the Union address. Very funny, Mr. President, but not everyone is laughing, including locals from Lane County and UO students who reached out to Congressman Peter DeFazio to help create better solutions to recover wild salmon in the Columbia-Snake River Basin.

At only 1 percent of historic populations, the only condition wild salmon will be in if we dont change course is extinct ã not smoked. Obamas current salmon plan is a repackaged version of Bush policies that have already failed to pass in court.

Unfortunately, DeFazios current support for these same policies reveals that he seems less concerned with the future health of our ecosystems and communities that rely on Columbia and Snake River salmon than on maintaining the status quo of hydropower operations.

In a recent Oregonian opinion piece, DeFazio teamed up with Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) to express support for the federal salmon plan awaiting court approval by Judge James Redden. DeFazio claimed that salmon policies were just fine as is and that its "time to get out of the courtroom.” Hes right; this plan has been in court since it was originally deemed illegal by Redden during the Bush years. Oregonians, and citizens from Idaho and Washington, have been desperately waiting for a decision that determines the future of salmon and steelhead populations as well as the cultural and economic values affected by salmon.

Rushing to pass bad policy is a mistake. DeFazios eagerness to get out of the courtroom should be directed towards creating the "aggressive measures” he claims to support in his personal response to local salmon advocates of Lane County. But the federal plan which he wants to speed through court has no such "aggressive” measures and has been criticized by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS), calling it "inadequate.” In their assessment, WDAFS concluded that by monitoring and evaluating declines while continuing programs such as trucking fish around dams, the federal agencies seem more determined to defend the status quo than secure the viability and survival of wild salmon.

DeFazio should seriously consider the possibility of removing the four dams of the lower Snake River in eastern Washington. It would be the most effective solution for wild salmon, returning them to the largest and best-protected habitat in the lower 48 states ã the Snake River basin in central Idaho and northeast Oregon. Unfortunately, DeFazio refuses to consider this option. Instead he confuses the breaching of these four dams with "dismantling our hydropower system,” as if advocates wanted to take out everything from Grand Coulee to the Bonneville dam. He claims that these dams are necessary to integrate wind that is coming onto the grid, and removing them would be a huge economic loss.

Even the mandated spills, which have aided recent increases in Chinook returns, he views as wasting water that could be used to generate power and dollars.

Frankly, DeFazio has got it wrong. The four lower Snake River dams are "run-of-the-river” dams making them relatively poor at storing water, therefore unreliable for backing up wind energy compared to other larger dams in the region. The dams satisfy less than 4 percent of our energy and can largely be replaced by conservation measures.

In fact, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, appointed by Northwest governors to balance power and wildlife concerns, determined in their latest plan that the Northwest could meet its increased electricity needs over the next 20 years, remove the lower Snake River dams and retire all Northwest coal plants, and we would actually see lower, not higher, energy bills.

Right now DeFazio seems clouded by old arguments. Thats why I urge him to join other leaders ã Gov. John Kitzhaber, former governors Cecil Andrus (Idaho) and Mike Lowry (Washington), Sen. Jeff Merkley and Idahos Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch ã who have called for a third option to find solutions that benefit a diversity of Northwest interests. At the very least, Congressman DeFazio, we deserve a real opportunity to end government mismanagement of Northwest salmon. And when the smoke clears from the courtroom, I hope well see wild salmon thrive again.

Sheena Moore was born in Oregon but spent much of her childhood in Idaho. She is a senior in environmental studies at the UO and volunteers with Save Our Wild Salmon.