Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Salmon win a round against NMFS

This article is about the Federal courts' involvement in the formation of recovery plans for Columbia and Snake River salmon. It is revealing of NMFS attempts to satisfy key constituents. In this case it is the grain shippers of Idaho who want a cheap water route to transport grain to the Port of Portland. On the Klamath River, the big king salmon die-off was the consequence of work to get Sen. Gordon Smith elected.

NMFS has maintained that the four dams, that kill 92% of migrating smolt, are fixtures of the river ecology, like a rapids or a cut-bank.


Where would that mentality stop? Would a mine that taps into some nasty polluting mineral be just shrugged off as a fixture of nature? Do federal agencies need to be required to see the movie "Sahara"?
I hiked along this area deer hunting once and all I saw was some sturgeon paddling around near the surface. Free flowing water makes for mists that helps plants and animals along the river as well. Hunting opportunities should be counted too.

The Snake River historically had a run of 1.5 million spring/summer chinook worth about $400 million retail annually now. When the four dams were put in, the run was down to 60,000. Now it's about 17,000. Even with hatcheries doing all they can, only three sockeye got back to Red Lake in Idaho last year. Who knows how many fish were in that run to name a lake "red."

The Matolius River in Eastern Oregon is a tributary of the Dechutes River. There's a nice big dam smack in the middle of the Dechutes, blocking salmon returning to the Matolius. The Indian name "matolius" means "stinking" and they named the river that because of all the salmon that spawned and died there. Just now they are putting in a outflow tower that will let cold bottom water out instead of the top warm water that raises heck with returning salmon. What year is this? And we sent men to the moon?

I first heard about the Matolius driving by it with college friends from Oregon in the late '60s. We were going skiing at Mt. Batchellor, had some girls with us and could care less about salmon runs. I suppose that's generally the case these days too. I think if I were to come back to Alaska, I'd go join that group on the Kenai that fixes culverts under roads that block migrating salmon. Alaska doesn't have any big dams, but it's got a ton of culverts that are like little dams.

You can bet that road builders are putting traditional culverts in Alaska still. Heck, the Department of Transportation isn't responsible for salmon, right? Neither were the dam builders in the Lower 48 responsible for anything but H2O. So, I'm glad to see salmon coming under the purview of the Courts more. Nothing else has saved them.

A bill in the Alaska Legislature would grease the skids for people to take the fisheries managers to task in court for screwing up fish stocks. As a test, where are Fish and Game employees when salmon are trying to find a culvert, that's like a hole in the sky somewhere from the salmon's point of view. Or, where did the runs of chum salmon go in the side streams up Petersburg creek. Or the runs of the other four species of salmon for that matter. Every stream around Petersburg, Alaska has the same story, so what's up with that?

Alaska is turning into an Ocean Ranching state, whether ASMI admits it or not. If it wasn't for the chum hatcheries in Southeast Alaska last year, the seiners wouldn't have had a season. And Prince William Sound relies on a mammoth pink salmon hatchery. Maybe someone should pose the question to the Hayes Research Group in Anchorage and see what folks that know the streams think of Fish and Game stewardship of Alaska's wild salmon stocks.