AW Recommends Stronger Protected Areas for OR, WA, ID & MT
Today, American Whitewater submitted recommendations for amendments for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Fish and Wildlife Program. The Program has significant influence over rivers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The Council, which develops the Northwest Power Plan, is responsible for ensuring an affordable and reliable energy system while enhancing fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin.
American Whitewater focused our comments on strengthening the Protected Area program. Rivers and streams that are Protected make up about 20% of the rivers in the region, and represent areas where the Council has found that new hydropower development would have "unacceptable risks of loss to fish and wildlife species of concern." As a result, these rivers and streams are protected from future hydropower development. Since the program was initiated in the 1980's, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has followed the recommendation of the Council and has not issued any licenses for hydropower within a Protected Area.
Hydropower developers have their eye on building dams within these Protected Areas and are seeking exemptions to the program. These include hydropower proposals at Sunset Falls on the South Fork Skykomish River and Ernie's Gorge on the North Fork Snoqualmie River in Washington, and the Bear River Narrows in Idaho.
Protected Areas were originally put in place to mitigate the harm that has come to the region's fish and wildlife populations as a result of the Columbia River hydropower system and to reduce the controversey that is involved with building dams in these sensitive areas. Today, they remain more important than ever before. As our climate changes and toxins from the operation of the hydropower system and runoff impact fish and wildlife, Protected Areas also provide areas of refuge. They also help to preserve the populations that are doing well, saving money and sparing recovery efforts in the future.
American Whitewater recommended that the Council not allow exemptions in Protected Areas. We also recommended that the Protected Areas program be expanded to include updated listings under the Endangered Species Act and habitat that has been newly opened due to recent dam removals, such as on the White Salmon River in Washington and the Rogue River in Oregon.
There is still time for the public to weigh in. The Council will be receiving public comment on the recommendations over the next month, and we encourage you to stay involved! Stay tuned to AW for how.