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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

New Salmon Plan

Air Date: Week of

There appears to be consensus on the recent National Marine Fisheries Service plan for the replenishment of Pacific Northwest salmon stocks — no constituency likes it. Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU in Seattle reports.


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The numbers of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest have plummeted in recent years. And many species are already officially endangered. Restoring the salmon could also revive commercial and recreational fishing, but many in the region say the cost is just too high. About the only thing that environmental activists, Indian tribes, and industry groups can agree upon right now, is that none of them like the latest plan proposed by the Clinton Administration to save salmon on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. From Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU has more.

SCHMIDT: After nearly a year of work, the National Marine Fisheries Service says it has come up with an affordable and financially sound plan to save the Columbia River Salmon. Spokesman Merritt Tuttle.

TUTTLE: I believe that we've done more in this particular biological canyon for Salmon than has ever been done before. It is a major change in the operation of the Columbia River system, and it's exactly what's needed to avoid extinction of these stocks.

SCHMIDT: The plan pinpoints the river's huge hydroelectric dams as the biggest threat to the salmon's survival. To help the fish through them, the Agency calls for releasing more water through spillways, which would flush young salmon out to the ocean. But environmentalists and tribe members have blasted the proposal for not going far enough. They think a big part of the solution lies in draw-downs, a drastic lowering of reservoirs to speed up the river's flow. Many scientists believe slow-moving water on the Snake River is a major killer of young salmon. Michael Rossotto of Save Our Wild Salmon says the plan avoids draw-downs because they're costly and opposed by many northwest law makers.

ROSSOTTO: I think they've come under intense political pressure, and that they are misreading the results of the November election. Rather than reading the results of the election as a citizen demand to get the job done, they are, I think, cowed at the notion that anything that takes an investment is going to be rejected by the voters.

SCHMIDT: Private industry groups are also disappointed with the opinion, although for very different reasons. Glen VanSelow of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association says there is no clear biological evidence that releasing more water into the river system will help salmon survive.

VAN SELOW: We're very much concerned that they're engaging in programs that will not be successful in rebuilding the stocks, and that those unsuccessful programs are very expensive.

SCHMIDT: The government is estimating its plan will cost rate payers an additional $160 million a year. The plan must still be approved by a Federal judge, the same judge who rejected an earlier version of the plan as grossly inadequate. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.



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