Tag Archives: Columbia River

K pod turns offshore from Strait of Juan de Fuca

UPDATE, Jan. 27, 2013

K pod has reached the mouth of the Columbia River for the second time since K-25 was darted with a satellite tag a month ago. To preserve the life of the transmitter battery, the data is now being sent less frequently. See Robin Baird’s update on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

UPDATE, Jan. 25, 2013

After dipping their dorsal fins into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, K pod turned back to the ocean, as we reported yesterday. This morning, they were still heading down the Washington Coast, approaching the Columbia River. See Robin Baird’s post for Brad Hanson.

UPDATE, Jan. 24, 2013

The orcas took another alternate route again. Instead of heading on into the Salish Sea, K pod turned around in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, not far from where we last reported them yesterday. As of this posting, they are back in the ocean, near the mouth of the strait, according to the latest satellite data posted by Robin Baird of Cascadia Research for Brad Hanson, NOAA’s principal researcher.
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UPDATE, Jan. 23, 2013

Answering yesterday’s question about where K pod will go next, the orcas made a turn to the east and headed into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, back toward the familiar waters of Puget Sound. Take a look at the latest map of the whales’ travels that Robin Baird posted on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

As of this morning, K pod was nearing Port Angeles. From there, they could turn north toward Victoria and the San Juan Islands or head into Admiralty Inlet on their way to Central Puget Sound.
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K pod has made two interesting detours since Saturday, when the orcas returned to Washington state waters from the south, according to tracks generated by the K-25, who has been carrying a satellite transmitter for more than three weeks.

As the whales approached the Columbia River on Saturday, they took a sharp turn to the left and headed out to sea, reaching the edge of the continental shelf. Their failure to delay their travels at the mouth of the Columbia has been a surprise to those of us who assumed they would find salmon in the vicinity. See map on Orca Network’s Facebook page.

The whales then followed the edge of the shelf until they were offshore of Queets, where they began to move toward shore again.

The next question, as the whales approached the Strait of Juan de Fuca, was whether they would enter the strait and return to Puget Sound, continue past the strait along Vancouver Island or turn around and head south again. Their answer was a fourth course, veering sharply offshore into the open Pacific Ocean.

Robin Baird of Cascadia Research, who has been mapping the satellite data, reported that as of 7 a.m. today K pod was about 30 miles southwest of Cape Beale on the southwest side of Vancouver Island. That would put the pod about an equal distance from Cape Flattery at the northwest corner of Washington state.

Anyone wish to guess where these orcas will go from here?

K pod has been tracked to an area offshore of Washington State and Vancouver Island.
K pod has been tracked to an area offshore of Washington State and Vancouver Island.
Tracking data from NOAA

Columbia River salmon still wrapped in legal battles

When I heard that U.S. District Judge James Redden had, for the third time, rejected a biological opinion designed to protect Columbia River salmon from extinction, my mind leaped to this ongoing question: Will this decision move us closer or further away from removing dams from the Snake River?

After reading Redden’s opinion (PDF, 1.1 mb), I’m not sure. But I can understand why various sides of the debate must be feeling a mixture of hope and frustration from a legal battle that has continued for more than 10 years.

Redden was clear that NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) could not conclude that salmon are on their way to recovery by relying on undetermined and unplanned habitat improvements proposed from 2013 to 2018 — not so very far in the future.

Quoting from his own opinions upheld by higher courts, Redden wrote in a fairly straight-forward way:

“The ESA (Endangered Species Act) prohibits NOAA Fisheries from relying on uncertain and speculative actions that are not ‘reasonably certain to occur.’ Mitigation measures may be relied upon only where they involve ‘specific and binding plans’ and ‘a clear, definite commitment of resources to implement those measures …’

“Mitigation measures supporting a biological opinion’s no-jeopardy conclusion must be ‘reasonably specific, certain to occur, and capable of implementation; they must be subject to deadlines or otherwise-enforceable obligations; and, most important, they must be address the threats to the species in a way that satisfies the jeopardy and adverse-modification standards.

“Here, NOAA Fisheries improperly relies on habitat mitigation measures that are neither reasonably specific nor reasonably certain to occur, and in some cases not even identified….

“It is one thing to identify a list of actions, or combination of actions through adaptive management to reflect changed circumstances. It is another to simply promise to figure it all out in the future….

“Coupled with the significant uncertainty surrounding the reliability of NOAA Fisheries habitat methodologies, the evidence that habitat actions are falling behind schedule, and that benefits are not accruing as promised, NOAA Fisheries’ approach to these issues is neither cautious nor rational.”

In a footnote, Redden said he is troubled that the agencies have been unable to come up with numerical predictions for salmon survival based on the habitat improvements proposed.

Redden said he would keep the biological opinion in place, flawed as it is, to ensure that NOAA Fisheries will “get out of the courtroom and get to work for the next two and a half years.”

By 2014, Redden wants a new biological opinion that thoroughly discusses the mitigation efforts but also addresses “more aggressive action, such as dam removal and/or additional flow augmentation and reservoir modifications….

“As a practical matter,” he notes, “it may be difficult for federal defendants to develop a long-term biological opinion that relies only on mitigation measures that are reasonably certain to occur.”

That last sentence about the difficulty of relying on mitigation measures keeps the door open to a future court order involving dam removal — but Redden clearly understands that he cannot replace a biological opinion with a legal ruling.

Will Stelle, regional director of NOAA Fisheries put a positive spin on the ruling. He told Scott Learn of The Oregonian that adding more detail to the biological opinion should be enough satisfy the judge.

“He ordered us to tighten up on the habitat program after 2013, and that’s fine,” Stelle was quoted as saying. “We were intending to do it anyway.”

Environmental and fishing groups celebrated the judge’s ruling, as they explained in a joint news release (Scribd). The following comment is from Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations:

“Now is the time for the Obama Administration to walk the talk on real salmon solutions. As this ruling highlights, the federal government has spent nearly 20 years spending enormous sums of money foolishly by doing all the wrong stuff.

“Facing the problem squarely, including potential removal of the four fish-killing dams on the lower Snake River, will create many thousands more jobs, revive the fishing industry, save billions of dollars for taxpayers, and lead in the development of clean, renewable, more efficient energy.

“What we need most now is for this administration to lead us to those solutions, not just bury its head in the sand in denial as has so often happened in the past.”

Other news stories:

The News Tribune

Seattle Times

Hanford’s story can be told in different ways

Cleaning up nuclear waste at the Hanford reservation in Eastern Washington is one of this state’s most critical and vexing environmental problems. The site is so dangerous to the people and environment along the Columbia River that every Washington resident ought to keep an eye on the progress.

“The contaminants out there are so dangerous and so long-lived… We should be absolutely insisting that the federal government clean that site up, whatever the cost,” Jay Manning told me three years ago.

Manning was the director of the Department of Ecology when I interviewed him about the state’s top environmental problems. See Kitsap Sun, Feb. 16, 2008. He has since become the governor’s chief of staff. See Water Ways, Oct. 5, 2009.

Since then, the federal government has poured billions into the project, including a significant boost of dollars with the economic stimulus package. Now that effort is being pared back, with a significant loss of jobs, as Annette Cary reports in the Tri-City Herald.

Converting huge amounts of nuclear waste into a safer form is a difficult technological and logistical problem, as reporter Craig Welch points out in a pair Seattle Times stories published Jan. 22 and Jan. 23.

These stories bring you into the meat of the problem. But I have to say that I was equally impressed by a short piece I heard last night on KUOW radio. Reporter Anna King helps us understand the nature of problem from the perspective of people who have made a career out of cleaning up Hanford’s waste. These grizzled employees have learned from years of experience, and are now about to turn over their projects to a new generation. The newcomers will learn to navigate the minefields of nuclear risk — but they, too, may be retired before the job is done. Quoting from her piece:
Continue reading

Federal salmon plan opens the door to breaching dams

A “strengthened plan” to restore salmon runs on the Columbia River opens the door, for the first time, to the idea of breaching dams on the Snake River.

But neither side in the contentious debate believes the administration has taken the correct approach.

The Adaptive Management Implementation Plan would call for dam-breaching only if “more aggressive” measures fail to reverse declines in salmon populations, according to a news release issued this morning by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The plan responds to a letter from federal District Judge James A. Redden, who said a biological opinion issued by the federal government would not restore Columbia River salmon runs, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

“The time has come to move out of the courtroom and get to work recovering salmon and preserving the region’s unique way-of-life,” said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “This biological opinion, backed by sound science and tremendous state and tribal support, will help preserve the vibrancy and vitality of the Columbia and Snake River basins for generations to come.”

Supporters of dam removal blasted the plan, saying it continues a flawed policy. See the news release from a coalition of groups.

Here’s what Zeke Grader, executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, had to say:

“This was a test for Commerce Secretary Gary Locke — on both economics and science — and this plan failed on both accounts. This decision will no doubt leave salmon in the perilous decline they have been in for years and communities up and down the coast and inland to Idaho will continue to suffer. For an administration so set on protecting and restoring jobs, this decision is a huge mistake and a clear signal to fishermen that their jobs don’t count.”

From Bill Arthur, deputy national field director for the Sierra Club:

“Although the Bush administration is gone, unfortunately it looks like its policies will live on for Columbia-Snake salmon. It’s a bit like the Night of the Living Dead; we keep fighting these failed and illegal salmon plans, but they continue to spring back to life… It’s now time for the Judge to bury this plan for good, and provide a fresh opportunity to get it right for the people, communities and magnificent salmon and steelhead of the Northwest.”

In a news release, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, attacked the Obama administration for opening the door to dam removal, even a crack:

“The Obama Administration has put dam removal back on the table and delivered just what dam removal extremists have been demanding. No one should be fooled by talk of dam removal as a last resort when the Obama Administration is immediately launching studies and plans for such action.

“The extremists who brought this lawsuit may be critical about this plan because dam removal wasn’t delivered on a silver platter with promises of wrecking balls arriving next week, but they got what they wanted from the Obama Administration and they’ll try and convince Judge Redden to give them even more…

“I warned the Obama Administration that opening the door to dam removal even just a crack would incite dam removal extremists to keep fighting and divert time, attention and resources away from real solutions to recover salmon.”

Terry Flores, executive director of a user coalition called Northwest RiverPartners:

“This plan – while expensive – holds the most promise for the region to move forward collectively to do things that actually benefit fish… We support restoring wild salmon runs, and experience shows that dams and fish are co-existing, but this is an unprecedented cost people are being asked to bear in extremely tough economic times”

To view documents filed with the court today, visit the Federal Caucus Web site.

NEWS STORIES
Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman
William McCall, Associated Press
William Yardley, New York Times
Editorial Board, The Oregonian
Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian
Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times
Editorial Board, Yakima Herald-Republic
Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman
Erik Robinson, The Columbian, Vancouver
Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian
Tom Banse, NPR, KUOW
Steve Scher, KUOW