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Restoring the Lower Snake River

The Northwest and the nation deserve a federal salmon plan that works. 

**More on the salmon community's response to the Bush/Obama salmon plan

Obama administration releases Bush salmon with no substantive changes

On May 20th, the Obama administration released its salmon and steelhead plan for the Columbia & Snake Rivers – the result of a 90-day remand. Administration officials have decided they will stick with the Bush administration's failed analyses and strategies for endangered wild salmon on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

A quick review of how we got here:

Campaign 2008 -- Candidate Obama campaigns for change, including a pledge to return science and transparency to federal decision-making.

January 21, 2009 -- In his inaugural speech, President Obama promises to “restore science to its rightful place.”

March 3, 2009 – Before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, President Obama promises to look “for ways to improve [the ESA], not weaken it.”

May 2009 -- After the Obama Administration inherits the Bush Administration’s deeply flawed 2008 Columbia Basin Salmon Plan, Judge Redden sends strongly-worded letter indicating that the plan is unlikely to pass legal muster. The Obama Administration asks the court for time to review the 2008 plan, to better understand the plan prior to proceeding. The Western Division of the nation’s premier fisheries science organization, the American Fisheries Society, sends a letter to new NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, reaffirming their support for lower Snake River dam removal as the key option to recovering Snake River salmon and steelhead.

Summer 2009 -- The Administration reviews the 2008 salmon plan largely behind closed doors; holds no substantive discussions with salmon and fishing advocates; hosts a confidential 2-day scientific review, but without any meaningful transparency, peer-review, or open discussions with independent scientists, salmon advocates, or fishermen. No actual materials (notes, presentations, etc.) from the “scientific review” have ever been made public. Read more on the science review.

September 2009 – The Administration officially adopts the Bush plan that it inherited, includes an amendment – the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan (AMIP) – in an attempt to address the shortcomings of the 2008 Plan – and submits the revised package to Judge Redden.

February 2010 – The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society pans that “new” plan and its AMIP for not using the best available science and being more concerned with protecting dams and a (failed) status quo than endangered salmon. In a separate action, Judge Redden suggests that the Administration withdraw the plan for 90 days to address substantive and procedural shortcomings. The Administration agrees to this review (also called a remand). Read their review of the AMIP.

May 20, 2010 – The Administration is scheduled to deliver its final plan to Judge Redden.

Needless to say, salmon and fishing advocates’ expectations for the Obama Plan are low. Here is what this new plan must minimally include in order to begin to address the needs of endangered salmon and steelhead, and the requirements of the law and science:

The Obama administration's failure hits on four main fronts:

(1) Salmon need Water: End the costly and unnecessary annual arguments over river operations and commit to a default full spill program – as suggested by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Independent Scientific Advisory Board– for the 10-year life of this plan (spill sends water – and young migrating fish - over the dams, rather than though lethal spinning turbines, or in barges or trucks).

(2) Climate change: Stop downplaying the impacts of climate change on salmon in the Columbia River Basin and heed Judge Redden’s call for sound, specific climate change analysis, similar to NOAA’s 2009 Central Valley Biological Opinion in California.

(3) Lower Snake River dams: Immediately initiate a comprehensive study of lower Snake River dam removal to fully understand and prepare for this restoration option – the one with the greatest level of scientific support and biological certainty

(4) Inclusive stakeholder negotiations: Convene key stakeholders to work together to craft a lawful, science-based plan that works for people and communities, considers all credible recovery options – including the removal of the four lower Snake River dams – and ensures the protection and restoration healthy, harvestable salmon populations.

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