Saturday, May 15, 2010

Can Stelle Deliver Change for the Snake River?

Last week the President Obama nominated Will Stelle to serve as Northwest Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Stelle, a career lawyer from Seattle is not new to the politics of salmon in the Northwest. In fact, he served in the same post in the 1990s during the Clinton Administration and was a part of the team that drafted the 2000 BiOp, which was subsequently deemed illegal under the ESA. The appointment comes after a year in which the Obama administration has given no indication that it intends to advocate for the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams in the near term and the legal issues surrounding the 2008 BiOp remain unsettled. Environmental groups have previously butted heads with Stelle and it remains to be seen how his appointment will influence policy on the Columbia.

Since he last held the post with NMFS in 2000 much has changed on the Columbia and Snake systems. Favorable ocean conditions and improved water management through the Columbia hydrosystem have resulted in modest improvements in returns of salmon and steelhead in the Snake and Columbia, however much remains to be done. The four lower Snake River dams remain as the greatest impediment to the recovery of wild salmon in the basin and the public discourse surrounding the dams is increasingly focused on the possibility of removing the dams and restoring a free flowing Lower Snake River. Wild salmon and steelhead in the basin have proven to be extremely resilient and dam removal would pave the way for an unprecedented recovery for wild salmon in the Lower 48. Now the federal government has a choice to make. Do they argue for the status quo, spending millions of dollars a year on mitigation efforts that only delay the extinction of wild salmon in the Snake or do they take a bold new approach to the issue? A free flowing Snake would be a tremendous natural, and economic asset to Washington, Oregon and Idaho and would be the greatest dam removal project in history. With an emphasis on investment in infrastructure, the federal government should strongly consider improving rail transportation along the Snake river corridor and stimulating green energy investment that could replace the aging, and environmentally destructive dams.

The Columbia once one of the greatest salmon bearing rivers in the world, and while salmon and steelhead are holding on by a thread in the Snake, it's only a matter of time before climate change and shifts in ocean productivity cause further declines. Dam removal is the only solution which can lead to a strong recovery for wild salmon in the region and it is time that the government listened to the science and the public, the four lower Snake River dams must go.

More on the Stelle appointment in the Idaho Statesman

1 comment:

chaveecha said...

That is some straight talk!!! I expected to read more about Will Stelle, but I much prefered your tight assessment of the situation for Snake salon & steelhead. Gave me goosebumps!

But in answer to your question: Will Stelle has proven that he is not a strong advocate for Columbia salmon, in my opinion. And with this weak appointment, Obama and his political machine are underlining their lack of resolve.

I recall a certain former NATO commander suggesting that Will Stelle be thrown in jail for failing to meet his legal obligations during the last go-round...hopefully this term works out better for our fish.