River News for the Week of November 17, 2000
NW WILD SALMON: Regional and national conservation groups this week announced two ad campaigns in the Northwest advocating a stronger salmon plan from the Clinton Administration. The ads call for a plan based on the best available science and ask the President to ensure that dam removal be ready in five years as a safety net if the alternative methods contained in the current plan continue to fail to recover salmon. The first ad started in the Oregonian, Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and will also run in the Salem Statesman Journal, Eugene Register Guard, Willamette Week, Tacoma News Tribune and Enterprise papers throughout this week. These ads are sponsored by Trout Unlimited, Save Our Wild Salmon, Patagonia, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice and American Rivers. The National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club are running ads are also starting this week on radio stations in Portland, Spokane, and Seattle. The two groups are working with hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to build a salmon recovery plan that uses the best available science. That would include removing the four lower Snake River dams and making the investments to fix the transportation, energy and navigation systems to keep communities whole. In addition the two organizations are committed to working with landowners to improve water quality, instream flows and streamside buffers. Wild salmon runs in the Snake River -- historically the largest in the Columbia Basin -- have plummeted since the four dams were built. Scientists agree that the risk of extinction is high. Extensive scientific analysis shows that removing the four dams is likely necessary to recover wild salmon. No measures that could achieve recovery without dam removal have been identified.
In Washington State, King County has acquired 45 acres of prime salmon habitat along the Cedar River near Maple Valley. As reports the AP (11/15), the $937,000 purchase adds to more than 400 acres of land that has been set aside to protect salmon habitat along the lower Cedar River area. The land has everything a salmon needs to survive, says Gino Lucchetti, a biologist with the county's Department of Natural Resources. King County Executive Ron Sims considers the land one of the most remarkable fish habitats along the 20-mile stretch of the lower Cedar River.
In Oregon, the Pacific Legal Foundation has dropped a lawsuit over clubbing hatchery salmon after the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said it has no plans to wipe out any more runs of coho raised in hatcheries, reports the Oregonian (11/15), The suit was filed a year ago after hatchery workers were video-taped clubbing coho salmon at the Fall Creek Fish Hatchery. Since the hatchery was being closed down, the fish were being clubbed to prevent them from spawning with wild salmon from the Alsea River Basin. Eggs at the hatchery were also destroyed. The videotape consequently spurred debates about policies favoring wild fish over hatchery fish. The state says it has no further plans to destroy future hatchery fish.
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ATLANTIC SALMON: This week the federal government listed wild Atlantic salmon in eight Maine rivers as endangered under the Endangered Species Act after several years of controversy. As reports the Portland Press Herald (11/14), "the long-awaited decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service extends federal protection to a population that has probably dwindled to fewer than 150 fish." Only 27 adult salmon have returned up the eight rivers this year to spawn this year. Some public officials including Gov. Angus King and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins oppose the decision, saying that it is based on poor science and that, in fact, due to stocking rivers with fish for decades and interbreeding, there is no longer a distinct "wild" genetic identity for salmon. Federal officials produced a 200-page status review of Atlantic salmon, determining that they are a distinct population segment, genetically, behaviorally and geographically different from salmon found in Canada and Europe. The listing applies on eight rivers: the Sheepscot and Ducktrap in midcoast Maine; the Narraguagus, Pleasant, East Machias, Machias and Dennys in Washington County; and Cove Brook, a tributary of the lower Penobscot. Maine officials are still deciding whether to appeal the decision in court.
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MISSOURI RIVER: The outcome of the disputed presidential election could shape management of the Missouri River system for years to come, reports the Argus Leader News (11/13). Vice President Gore is believed to be more supportive of environmental concerns, while George W. Bush has been seen to respond more to state's rights and keeping the federal government out of local issues. Whichever candidate wins, there are likely to be changes in current federal personnel and policy. Chad Smith of American Rivers has acknowledged the advantage of having a Democrat in office for the past years, especially as South Dakota's Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson have worked to promote changes in river management to benefit recreation and wildlife. Senator Johnson believes Gore would continue to support river management policies that would benefit outdoor recreation and wildlife needs. However, South Dakota. U.S. Rep. John Thune (R) sees a Bush presidency as a positive for the Missouri River and the people it affects, saying that with new appointments in the Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service, there would be "more of a consensus approach and not as many edicts from Washington."
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SOUTHWEST ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: Results of the presidential election are of concern in the Southwest as well. As reports the Arizona Republic (11/14), "the endangered razorback suckers in the Colorado River and the pygmy owls nesting in Coronado National Forest need to be concerned about who is elected president." Logging and mining industries are most likely to be affected by who is chosen as the next president. As reports the Republic, "Expect more of the same if Al Gore prevails. George W. Bush is less predictable." As reports the publication, one of the greatest differences between the two White House contenders may well be land use - the Clinton-Gore administration has lately been carrying out an aggressive program of setting aside national lands as monuments - with three of them in Arizona. Bush, on the other hand, more typically comes down on the side of land owners, specifically ranchers in the Southwest. Further, Dick Cheney, Bush's running mate, has already discussed the option of undoing some of Clinton's decisions to create monuments.
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L'ANGUILLE RIVER: A bill signed by President Clinton on October 27th has appropriated $750,000 for a study that could lead to a Corps of Engineers project designed to improve drainage in the L'Anguille River in Arkansas. To date, the L'Anguille remains one of the few relatively unaltered streams in East Arkansas, except for a short section of the upper portion of the river that was enlarged and straightened some 50 years ago. The Corps project would remove logjams, accumulated debris, and other significant blockages that cause water to back up and flood timber. Water quality problems related to historic wetland loss and runoff from farm acreage that endanger the river are made worse by the blockages, says the Corps. However, sportsmen and landowners along the river are skeptical about the project, fearing that removal of the blockages could accelerate currents and create long-term changes in the L'Anguille, as well as harm some of the best waterfowl habitat since the bottoms along the river would be flooded less frequently.
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BOISE RIVER: About $28,000 of a federal grant is being used by the city of Boise, Idaho to determine what steps the city should take to prevent flooding and protect habitat and other resources along the river corridor. The Federal Emergency Management Agency chose Boise two years ago to receive a $500,000 grant to develop and encourage projects to make the city a "disaster-resistant community." As reports the Idaho Statesman (11/13), eight projects were planned in response, half of which have been completed, to help the city avoid natural disasters or be better prepared to respond when disasters occur. The survey will help the city determine how much it should or can restrict development along the river in order to prevent flooding.
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IDAHO'S OWYHEE CANYONLANDS: The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, the Idaho Conservation League, The Committee for Idaho's High Desert, the National Wildlife Federation, Idaho Rivers United, the National Parks and Conservation Association, American Lands, American Rivers and the Friends of the Earth have come together to ask President Clinton to designate 2.7 million acres of steep-sided canyons, juniper-covered mountains and sagebrush grassland plateaus as a national monument. The groups are hoping that Clinton will preserve the Owyhee Canyonlands, an area larger than four Rhode Islands, from mining, off-road vehicles and the piecemeal destruction of its archaeological and natural wonders, before he leaves office. As reports the Idaho Statesman (11/16), the area is 50 miles southwest of Boise, and is characterized by its wide-open desert as large as an ocean that drops into deep, rugged canyons with clear rivers lined with verdant oases. The Idaho Cattle Association, The Idaho Farm Bureau, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, Owyhee County officials and Idaho's congressional delegation oppose the designation, saying that they don't trust the federal government to protect private property rights, public access and grazing.
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DAMS: This week the World Commission on Dams released a report acknowledging the many impacts of dams (as well as the benefits), and calling for many things, including improved environmental and social reviews prior to dam construction and a periodic review of existing dams. Though dams have brought much-needed power and water to the world, their toll on poor people and the environment has been unacceptable, says the report. Tens of millions of people have been displaced and their livelihoods destroyed, and animal species have gone extinct and fragile ecosystems destroyed due to dams. As reports the AP (11/17), the report proposes strict new guidelines for future projects and more than 100 non-governmental organizations responded by calling for a suspension of all projects by the $42-billion-a-year dam industry until they are reviewed in accordance with the report. The Commission further said that alternative methods of dam building should be studied, additional effort to gain public approval should be sought, and that in-depth environmental-impact studies should be mandatory.
The report is the result of two years of research focused mainly on eight major dams - and as reports the AP, "the best-documented examples of disrupted fish migrations are from the Columbia River in Washington state, where an estimated 5 to 14 percent of the adult salmon population are killed at each of the eight large dams they pass while swimming up the river."
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COLUMBIA RIVER: The Center for Environmental Law and Policy and other conservation groups this week petitioned Washington's state Department of Ecology to put a moratorium on new water withdrawals from the Columbia river. As reports ENN (11/16), a lawsuit is possible if the state denies the request. In the past four years, flow rates have fallen below federal targets in both the Columbia and Snake rivers - home to more than a dozen salmon and steelhead species listed on the federal Endangered Species Act. The target flow rates are designed to define how much water is required to allow the salmon to reach the ocean. However, Washington has more requests then ever to divert water from the river, with about 400 applications pending for water appropriations. Though the Department of Ecology closed the Columbia and Snake rivers to new water withdrawals in 1992 in an effort to study water uses, the state legislature ordered the rivers opened again in 1997, before the DEQ finished their studies. The DEQ says it will consider the petition, but a final decision could take one or two years to reach. However, the conservation groups are asking for an immediate halt to water appropriations on the
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HUDSON RIVER: For the first time, New York Gov. George Pataki has called for dredging of the Hudson River to remove potentially harmful PCBs that were discharged into the river by General Electric for about 30 years under state permits. As reports the NY Times (11/17), the decision to support dredging is a major blow to the General Electric Company. Pataki made his decision known in a letter sent by John P. Cahill, commissioner of the state's Department of Environmental Conservation, to the U.S. EPA. If the EPA chooses dredging to clean up the river, General Electric could be forced to pay for a cleanup costing hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade or more.
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KANAWHA RIVER: In West Virginia, state public health officials are expected to expand a 14-year-old fish consumption advisory on the Kanawha River to include striped bass, reports the Charleston Gazette (11/16). The Kanawha and five of its tributaries are contaminated with PCBs and high levels of dioxin. As reports the Gazette, "the Kanawha Valley's history of chemical production, especially the manufacture of the defoliate Agent Orange by Monsanto at its Nitro factory, has left the region's streams tainted with dioxin."
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