Salmon Salvation

Will a new political order be enough to finally bring the dams down?

  • By Paul Lachine
  • By Paul Lachine
  • By Paul Lachine
  • By Paul Lachine
 

Page 5

The hurdles include the ports of Lewiston, Clarkson and Whitman County, and the region's aluminum industry -- which, with its aging smelters and stiff international competition, continues to shrink. Public utilities that benefit from the hydro system's subsidized power also have long opposed dam removal, but even that appears less insurmountable than it was in the 1990s. Pacific Northwest wind generation capacity, which also enjoys tax subsidies, is expected to reach at least 6,000 megawatts by 2013, a sizeable portion of the region's power demand.

But BPA's clout will be the most difficult to overcome. The agency is able to keep a low profile -- it's headquartered in Portland instead of Washington, D.C., and is primarily funded through power sales and transmission fees, not congressional appropriations. It is extremely adept at looking out for its own interests, maintaining a government relations office in Washington, D.C. And though there are laws prohibiting government agencies from lobbying, the agency has paid a firm named Washington2 Advocates about $700,000 over the last seven years to be its eyes and ears on Capitol Hill.

  Monthly work reports to BPA show Tony Williams from Washington2 talking to members of Congress about Judge Redden's court and salmon recovery. At a golfing fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson in 2006, Williams assured BPA, "I'll be able to talk directly to (Simpson) and his staff." Williams also is a contributor to Sen. Murray's campaign coffers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. BPA insists that the firm has stayed strictly within the law.

"BPA is more politically active than any federal agency I deal with," says Dan Seligman, a Seattle attorney, who publishes BPAWatch.com. "The current administrator, Steve Wright, like many of his predecessors, is politically savvy and knows how the game is played in D.C." Still, Seligman, who has worked for public power utilities,  acknowledges that BPA has a difficult task balancing power demands and fish needs. "No matter what it does, someone is going to complain."

The BPA and other federal agencies were able to use their political savvy and sizeable financial resources to win the support of some of the tribes. Last spring's settlement calls for the agencies to fund $900 million in habitat and hatchery projects over the next decade. In return, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Yakama, Warm Springs and Umatilla tribes were required to recant all of their scientific analysis critical of the federal government's salmon plans and cheerlead the agencies' current biological opinion.

Wright "has the authority to allocate huge amounts of money without any oversight," says Sando, former Idaho Fish and Game director. "He was able to use the power of the purse to dictate an end game, particularly for the tribes."

Since the agreements were signed, a panel of independent scientists tasked with reviewing these projects questioned whether 11 of 14 BPA-funded efforts would benefit salmon or other wild fish. 

The Nez Perce and Spokane tribes, which also have treaty rights to salmon, have their own problems with the settlements. After some negotiation with BPA, they opted to remain part of a legal challenge to the current salmon recovery plan along with a coalition of conservation groups, sport and commercial fishing interests and the state of Oregon.

"This was an attempt to silence the tribes on dam breaching being the best way to recover endangered salmon," says Rebecca Miles, who serves on the Nez Perce Executive Committee. "The Nez Perce couldn't allow themselves to be silenced on Snake River dam removal. We could not recant the science. And the Nez Perce couldn't sign an agreement that included supporting a (biological opinion) we knew was illegal under the Endangered Species Act."

The tribes who did settle take offense at such criticisms. 

It's "a direct insult to us as tribes," then-Inter-Tribal Fish Commission chairwoman Fidelia Andy told The Oregonian after the accord was announced in 2008. And it's still insulting, commission spokesman Charles Hudson says. "For the record," he adds, "Snake River dam breaching remains a component of all of our member tribes' salmon policies."

Beyond that, the tribal agreements were given a thorough airing with the public, interest groups, utilities and the Northwest congressional delegation, BPA's Milstein adds -- all part of the agency's determination to hold itself accountable.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ANCESTRAL LANDS ADMINISTRATIVE MANAGER
    Starting Salary: Grade C, $19.00 to 24.00 per/hour Location: Albuquerque or Gallup, NM Status: Full-Time, Non-Exempt Benefit Eligible: Full Benefits Eligible per Personnel Policies Program...
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • TRUSTEE AND PHILANTHROPY RELATIONS MANGER,
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Organize with Northern Plains Resource Council to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Starts $35.5k. Apply now- northernplains.org/careers