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Feds Seek Public Comment on Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan
by Dan Bacher
Wednesday Oct 7th, 2009 4:15 PM
The federal government is now seeking public comment on the draft plan to recover Central Valley salmon and steelhead populations.

Photo of leaping Central Valley steelhead from Department of Water Resources.
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Feds Seek Public Comment on Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan

by Dan Bacher

The federal government today published in the Federal Register a draft recovery plan designed to restore and stabilize Central Valley salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is now seeking public comment on the plan, with workshops for public comment and information planned in Chico and Sacramento this month.

The document addresses long-needed recovery efforts for endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon and threatened Central Valley steelhead. The ESA requires the development of a recovery plan for the successful rebuilding of species identified as being "at risk of extinction."

“This draft plan provides the framework necessary to recover salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act in the Central Valley,” said Maria Rea, Sacramento office supervisor for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “With the public’s input, it will also provide significant improvement for other non-listed salmonid species like the commercially valuable fall run Chinook.”

The document recommends changes in the operation of the state and federal pumping plants in the California Delta, as well as in upstream dam operations, incurring the wrath of corporate agribusiness interests that have exported record amounts of water from the estuary in recent years. The document pinpoints Delta water export operations as a key factor in the demise of the Sacramento River winter-run Chinook run and other Central Valley salmon populations.

"The primary factors causing mortality of winter-run Chinook salmon in the Delta are considered to be the diversion of juveniles from the mainstem Sacramento River into the central and southern Delta where environmental conditions are poor and reverse flow conditions exist which may move them into the lower San Joaquin River and into the south Delta waterways (NMFS 1997)," the plan states. "Survival through central Delta migratory routes is substantially lower than through northern routes."

The document was released as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Central Valley Congressmen, under pressure from subsidized corporate agribusiness on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, have gone to war against the federal biological opinions protecting Delta smelt, Central Valley salmon, green sturgeon and southern resident killer whales. The recovery plan is the result of a court order that mandated the Bush administration to rewrite a badly flawed biological opinion that declared that the operation of the state and federal water projects would pose "no jeopardy" to endangered salmon and steelhead.

The writing of the revised biological opinion was initiated under the Bush administration, so "Green Governor" Schwarzenegger, Feinstein and Valley Democrats including Representative Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) have taken environmental positions to the right of the Bush administration. They have repeatedly pressured Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to re-write the re-written biological opinion in order to keep robbing northern California and the Delta of water badly-needed to restore Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

Unfortunately, Salazar has apparently buckled under their pressure. Last week he said he would ask the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an independent review of the science underpinning federal water pumping limits mandated under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect Delta smelt and Central Valley salmon.

You can be sure that corporate agribusiness will amp up its astroturfing campaign, orchestrated by Barson-Marsteller, the "Public Relations Firm from Hell," to falsely portray the battle to restore the Delta as being over "fish versus jobs" in coming weeks. You can also be sure that the Latino Water Coalition, a front for Westlands and other corporate agribusiness interests, and the Central Valley Tea Party will marshal their forces at these meetings to pressure the federal government to greatly weaken court-ordered protections for Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt.

This astroturfing campaign takes place as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and agribusiness are relentlessly campaigning to build a peripheral canal and more dams. If built, the canal would drive collapsing populations of salmon and Delta fish over the edge of the extinction.

Schwarzenegger is now threatening to veto all bills on his desk if he doesn’t get the water bill package that he wants, in effect holding the entire state hostage to plans by corporate agribusiness and the Metropolitan Water District to build a canal and more dams to export more water from the Delta, the West Coast's largest estuary.

Faced with these attacks on Delta and Central Valley fisheries, it is crucial that recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, environmentalists, representatives of Indian Tribes, Delta farmers and all of those who care about the future of the Delta show in force at these and other upcoming meetings to raise their voices in support of the strong measures and changes in water policy required to protect Central Valley salmon and steelhead.

"Local knowledge and input from the public on the unique needs of these fish is extremely valuable, to ensure the plan is comprehensive and promotes stakeholder involvement," emphasized Maria Rea. "The plan has already received substantial input from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, and their expertise will continue to be tapped as the plan undergoes public review."

NOAA plans to conduct workshops in Chico and Sacramento to provide the public with an opportunity to learn more about the contents of the draft recovery plan and offer any feedback or comments. Federal biologists will explain the steps necessary to recover Sacramento River winter-run Chinook, Central Valley spring-run Chinook and Central Valley steelhead, so that they may ultimately be removed from the Endangered Species List.

Workshops will be held from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and again from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the locations and dates listed below:

Tues., Oct. 20 - Masonic Center, 1110 W East Avenue, Chico
Wed., Oct. 21 - Hilton, 2200 Harvard Street, Sacramento

Public comment and information relevant to this recovery plan must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. Dec. 7. Comments may be submitted by e-mail or U.S. mail:
• Email to CentralValleyPlan.SWR [at] noaa.gov. Include in the subject line “Comments on Central Valley Salmon and Steelhead Draft Plan.”
• Mail to: Brian Ellrott,
National Marine Fisheries Service
650 Capitol Mall, Suite 8-300
Sacramento, CA 95814

Electronic copies of this plan are also available online at: http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery/centralvalleyplan.htm. If you do not have online access, you can receive a CD copy. Contact Aimee Diefenbach at 916-930-3600 or e-mail your request to
aimee.diefenbach [at] noaa.gov with the subject line “CD-ROM Request for Central Valley Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Draft Plan.”

On the Web:
Central Valley Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Draft Plan:
http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery/centralvalleyplan.htm
Federal Register Announcement: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/pdf/E9-24224.pdf
Recovery plans for California and southern Oregon salmonids:
http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/recovery
Other ESA recovery plans: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/recovery
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov