Today, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04) sent a letter to the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary for Oceans and Atmosphere, expressing concerns over a costly contract the agency has signed with entities to conduct closed interviews with individuals about their opinions of ongoing salmon recovery activities in the Columbia Basin. Funded by taxpayer money, NOAA has provided no clear explanation of the timing, need for, or defined scope of the planning exercise.
"With data showing several years of near-record Columbia Basin salmon runs, I request that NOAA postpone this effort and instead re-double this Administration's commitment and focus to defend the Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion crafted with the support of three Northwest states, numerous tribes and other stakeholders, rather than create another distractive process that could engender divisive proposals, such as dam removal, and provide fodder for new costly and unproductive litigation, all to the detriment of the listed stocks and the region's economy," wrote Chairman Hastings.
The House Natural Resources Committee has oversight responsibilities over the Endangered Species Act and Northwest salmon programs. In the letter, Chairman Hastings assured that the Committee will review NOAA's process for pursuing and carrying out the "situation assessment" contracts.
Last December, NOAA negotiated a contract with two university-based entities, the Oregon Consensus Program and the Ruckelshaus Center, to interview individuals, including a number of environmental groups that favor dam removal to conduct a "situation assessment" on how Chinook salmon should be recovered in the Columbia Basin. However, according to publicly available data, for each of the past five years Chinook salmon runs have ranged between 480,000 to 850,000 and steelhead have numbered between 235,000 to 600,000. NOAA's timing and rationale for launching yet another costly exercise could potentially undermine the successful collaboration of federal agencies, states and several tribes to develop a legally-sound Biological Opinion, allowing for operations of the Northwest's vital federal hydropower dams to continue.