People For Puget Sound Calls on Feds Again to Analyze Southern Resident Orcas’ Need for Columbia River Chinook

People For Puget Sound Calls on Feds Again to Analyze Southern Resident Orcas’ Need for Columbia River Chinook, Lower Snake River Dam Removal
Previous Warnings from Scientists Ignored by NOAA

Seattle, WA – Responding to a federal judge’s order that the Obama Administration more closely look at salmon-killing effects of Columbia and Snake River dams, the Executive Director of People For Puget Sound urged the government to remember that the fate of Puget Sound’s iconic killer whale population hangs in the balance.  The Southern Resident population of killer whales is at a critically low level of fewer than 90 individuals, despite several new calves in the last year.

In a 2008 study by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the government concluded that the Columbia River hydropower dams do not affect Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Killer Whales – even though the dams are responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of chinook salmon each year. Chinook make up more than 70 percent of the diet of those killer whales (also called orcas).

“NOAA’s own research has found that Southern Residents are jeopardized by salmon population declines as far south as California,” said Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director of People For Puget Sound, who sent the letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco. “NOAA’s conclusion – that low chinook populations close to home in the Columbia River have no effect on our orcas – just doesn’t hold water.”

Fletcher pointed to NOAA’s conclusion last summer, in an analysis of Sacramento River water projects, that hatchery production of chinook cannot make up for wild fish mortality over the long run. “NOAA found, in 2009, that ‘There is no evidence that a population produced predominantly in hatcheries can persist over the long run,’” Fletcher said, “and yet the Columbia River analysis relies exclusively on hatchery production to mitigate for the dam-related mortality of wild salmon.”

“The Southern Resident Killer Whales will go extinct without more chinook salmon.  The orcas and the people of the Northwest who care about their fate deserve a plan for the Snake and Columbia River’s fish-killing dams that protects and restores our salmon and our resident killer whales.”

Fletcher’s letter observed that a number of prominent orca scientists brought this inconsistency to NOAA’s attention a year ago. These scientists also noted that the Columbia River analysis omitted consideration of Lower Snake River dam removal, despite strong evidence that this is the most effective measure for assuring chinook – and Southern Resident orca – survival.

A federal court has now given NOAA one last chance to fully review the scientific underpinnings of the Columbia River study.  Fletcher wrote Locke and Lubchenco, “The court has directed NOAA to look at the best available science. People For Puget Sound, representing over 20,000 concerned citizens, urges you not to overlook the Southern Resident orcas during this review, and to take seriously the real possibility of their extinction if wild salmon are not restored to the Columbia River basin.”

Conservationists and fishermen are challenging the Obama administration’s plan for the Columbia and Snake dams in a federal Court in Portland, Oregon.   People For Puget Sound is not involved in that lawsuit.

Steve Mashuda, an attorney with Earthjustice who represents plaintiffs in that case, said he hopes that the Obama administration’s current re-examination of the science behind the Columbia River analysis will be consistent with its findings for the Sacramento River.  “Our killer whales shouldn’t have to travel all the way to Monterey Bay before they can find a decent meal.  We need the Obama administration to ensure that the Columbia River, the largest salmon-producing river in the lower 48 states, can do its part and feed the orcas, too.”

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