Conservation Groups Oppose Simpson’s Snake River Plan

A frequent topic of this blog is the dismal state of Columbia Basin anadromous fish, including those in the Deschutes Basin. Among the most desperate are populations in the Snake River where dramatic action must be quickly taken to ensure their survival. The science is clear that without removing the lower four Snake River dams, some Snake River salmon and steelhead populations will soon become locally extinct (or “extirpated”, to use the more accurate term). A proposal has recently emerged to remove the dams, but as I previously wrote, it has some unacceptable provisions. While many conservation groups are ignoring the truly egregious components and rallying support for the plan, two days ago a coalition of other groups came out in opposition. Here’s a brief summary of the issue.

Everyone in the conservation community agrees that the four lower Snake River dams need to be removed, but at what price? Is it acceptable to save Snake River fish while putting the rest of the Columbia Basin in peril? That is exactly what Simpson’s proposal would do by unilaterally extending the licenses of over 80 other dams and suspending all challenges under the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts for 25 years. If enacted, the conservation community could be unable to effect change for decades.

Here in Central Oregon, for example, the 12+ year effort to create a Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan would be completely undermined. Local irrigation districts could ignore the agreement, knowing that they would be immune to legal challenges. In my opinion, this is an unacceptable Faustian bargain.

Full disclosure: I am on the board of WaterWatch of Oregon, one of the groups opposed to Simpson’s plan. I had nothing to do with this decision, however, and learned about it after the press release was issued. I’m not trying to distance myself from it, only stating that my opposition to the current proposal was formed independently.