Last week, I attended the Columbia/Snake River Scoping Open House in Lewiston, Idaho. While there was a ton of information presented via pre-made posters (all of which you can find here http://www.crso.info/eis.html) it was not apparent, at least in layman’s terms, what exactly this is all about. While a veritable army of agency representatives are on hand to answer questions about their display boards, it seemed to me that answers were a bit inconsistent or incomplete. And while salmon and steelhead recovery IS what this is all about, these iconic Idaho fish are given attention no better than other topics such as the virtues of flat water recreation, cheap electric power and flood control.
This current round of scoping stems from a decision handed down in federal court earlier this year. In May, federal Judge Michael Simon rejected the latest in a long series of deficient federal plans to address the impacts on wild steelhead and salmon of the complex of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The latest plan, a “biological opinion” produced in 2014, was the fifth such plan rejected by a federal court since 2000.
In a strongly worded opinion, Judge Simon found the 2014 plan flawed on multiple grounds.
An added twist in this round of litigation is Judge Simon’s decision that orderes the federal hydropower system operating agencies to also prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The last EIS was completed in 2002, and this enormous but critically important undertaking will take five years to complete. In particular, Judge Simon told the agencies to analyze removal of the four lower Snake River dams as a recovery option for Snake River fish — the first time in 15 years this option will be considered. Previous biological opinions that have been ruled illegal have only considered minor tweaks to the existing hydropower system rather than looking at what is needed to conserve and recover the species and designing a plan that can effectively contribute to recovery of these magnificent fish species.
The first phase of the EIS process is scoping of the analysis, and the public has an opportunity to weigh in. Fifteen scoping hearings are being held across the region (One is coming up in Boise on November 29th starting at 4pm at the Grove Hotel) and written comments can also be submitted (due January 17th, 2017). The scoping period offers a chance for all interested parties to let the dam management agencies know what they should consider when reviewing the Columbia and Snake river dams in relation to wild steelhead and salmon recovery.
This is a rare opportunity for angler-advocates to call for actions that will dramatically improve the prospects for wild steelhead and salmon in the Columbia and Snake River basins. I cannot make the Boise meeting, but I hope that you can. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and let them know that wild steelhead and salmon are important to you.
You can find more details on the Nov. 29 Boise meeting and talking points here .pdf.
If you can’t make the meeting or would rather comment from your own computer we have a handy form with pre-filled comments available here http://www.tu.org/wsu-action?vvsrc=%2fcampaigns%2f48621%2frespond to get you started.
Thanks for your help!
Michael Gibson is Idaho Field Coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsman Conservation Project. He is helping organize TU members and other angler-advocates in Idaho and Montana around the scoping effort. He lives in Boise. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact him at email@example.com