I believe that the vast majority of people really aren't paying attention to a lot of this stuff and when they do catch a story about it, they probably don't give it much thought because they have something more important on their minds at the time. That's not a harsh criticism, but if we were paying attention to this stuff, we would at the very least be writing our own comedy material in our minds to describe to our friends and family what we read or saw on TV later.
Many, many people are simply amazed and giving them credit they must be immediately assigning the best of human intentions to these actions we take to look like we care about saving the wild salmon and wild steelhead or more correctly maximizing our hatchery fish survival rates without doing anything completely nuts like breaching four dams that never lived up to their promise and the only people who were right about what the dams would actually do were the employees at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in the department's 1949 annual report when they said...
“Another serious threat to the Columbia river fishery is the proposed construction by the U.S. Army Engineers of Ice Harbor and three other dams on the lower Snake river between Pasco, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho, to provide slackwater navigation and a relatively minor block of power. The development would remove part of the cost of waterborne shipping from the shipper and place it on the taxpayer, jeopardizing more than one-half of the Columbia river salmon production in exchange for 148 miles of subsidized barge route.... This policy of water development, the department maintains, is not in the best interest of the over-all economy of the state. Salmon must be protected from the type of unilateral thinking that would harm one industry to benefit another.... Loss of the Snake River fish production would be so serious that the department has consistently opposed the four-phase lower dam program that would begin with Ice Harbor dam near Pasco.”
-- State of Washington Department of Fisheries, Annual Report, 1949
That is a great quote. That was thorough, yet concise. Obviously, not written by me. The dam proponents claimed the dams would produce three times what they actually produce in electricity and there were a lot of other fairy tales told to get those dams built, but I don't want to completely kill your buzz. Because I want to talk a little bit about how these federal agencies, primarily the Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration aren't taking wild salmon recovery seriously. Let's begin with the birds and maybe work our way on to some other programs that are supposed to be better than getting rid of the real killers, the dams.
I believe I have more than once given you the background on the bird predation stuff in the Columbia River Estuary, but here's a quick refresher course, for in-depth analysis go into the archives, it's there.
The Corps has to dredge the lower Columbia River, primarily to keep a channel deep enough for ocean going vessels to enter the Cape of Disappointment (I have a sweatshirt that says Cape of Disappointment and sometimes I wonder if it doesn't describe me, moving on...) and travel up river to the Port of Portland. When you dredge you end up with a lot of material, sediment, sand and you have to do something with it, so someone in the Corps said, "hey, why not just dump it on that poor wretch of a spit of land called East Sand Island," and so they did. Some Caspian terns were flying overhead and they said, "that right there looks like a great place to make out and raise a few young 'uns." Yes, Caspian terns speak exactly like that. And so they landed and went to work on the next generation, but the following year the Corps' dredged material was too fertile and a bunch of vegetation started growing up and the Caspian terns were like, "hey, did you pay the gardener?" Confused by the question they moved upstream to another island and started making new generations of Caspian terns. And they ate salmon and steelhead smolts as they passed the time on this new island, I believe it was Rice Island (if not, go into the archives, it is all there, working off memory here folks).
Well, someone at the Corps, probably bucking for a promotion, said, "man, those Caspian terns sure do eat a lot of those salmon smolts everybody's all the sudden concerned about, maybe we ought to move them back to East Sand Island," and so they did and you paid for it and didn't get to claim moving expenses on your tax return.
The East Sand Island those terns returned to was once again the perfect place for terns and also for cormorants, pelicans, gulls and even those pesky raptors took a shine to it with the thousands upon thousands of various fish eating birds living there. And so, someone at the Corps, maybe even the same guy says, "hey, those terns sure are eating a lot of those salmon smolts that people used to care about before we learned how to flood the market with hatchery fish, maybe we ought to move some of them somewheres else, see," and they made a new plan to move half the colony of Caspian terns either to southern Oregon or northern California.
And that brings you up to date, at least to this draft report, Some terns have already been persuaded to move to some lake where they can apparently eat some carp or sucker nobody cares about to their heart's content. Anyway, terns do eat a lot of salmon smolts in the estuary, but they are being outperformed by cormorants by a five to one margin. So, when you read that study that I linked to at the beginning, I want you to read the pilot study that was performed. They built an eight-foot tall privacy fence blocking off about 15 percent of the cormorant colony (apparently unaware that cormorants have the gift of flight and have not evolved to a height of eight or even seven feet tall, if they had they'd be playing for the Trailblazers I'm just sayin', did someone invent a time machine and bring in Galapagos Darwin for this study...you see there are flightless cormorants on Galapagos and I'm still working the room folks, moving on ) from the other 85 percent and then they performed their "study" by instituting something the scientists called "human disturbance to haze cormorants during the nest initiation period." Now, earlier I informed you that they were also having people in boats drive like bats out of hell at any bird on the water that looked like it was about to dine on salmon smolts (you can't make this stuff up folks, I dabble in fiction and reading these bird predation studies seriously makes me think my imagination is substandard). Just what is human disturbance, anyway? And even though I don't know exactly what they did behind that fence, me, a layman in terms of disturbing birds, know that of course if you walk toward birds they generally fly away or if you throw something at them they generally fly away, therefore they probably can't be very successful at keeping a nest. So, I don't quite know why there would have to be a pilot study to study something we already know would work, but quite frankly is looney. OK, there is one exception and that is the American Bittern, ran into one of those at a Missouri Conservation Area once and to this day don't know how that bird isn't extinct with its defense mechanism of elongating its neck and swaying back and forth to mimic the swaying vegetation around it. I stood there two feet away from that bird for a long time saying, "dude, I totally see you. It's not working, fly away. No, seriously, dude, are you listening to Free Bird on an iPod or something. Yeah, well, play it pretty for Atlanta." (my favorite nugget I learned about them later from a bird guidebook is "males may be polygamous, secretive birds." I don't care who you are that is funny right there. I can hear his wife, "don't you be swaying, who is she!?!") When do they do a pilot study with Ducks Unlimited members on East Sand Island? Seriously, why not? They don't seem to mind shooting California sea lions or ESA listed Stellar sea lions, so why not just unleash a bunch of DU members and their retrievers to the island you know something like D-Day only it's DU-Day and this time they ain't shooting ducks. No, I'm not advocating the slaughter of a bunch of fish eating birds, I'm pointing something out to you that at the very least borders on madness and I might add proves my point that these agencies presiding over the extinction of wild salmon and wild steelhead do not take their restoration seriously.
Terns eat something in the neighborhood of 4.5 million smolts, double-crested cormorants were eating something like 20 million smolts or something like that and so the "solution" is to move half the terns and annoy 15 percent of the cormorants!?! I don't want to get into the math, but here are some other ideas to end this bird predation problem we've augmented in the Columbia River Estuary. No, these won't be anymore serious than the DU-Day, or what we are actually doing. We could hold daily beach volleyball tournaments on the island. We could allow a few western Oregonians and Washingtonians to ride their ATVs around the island all day doing donuts in the sand. Sure, they will have to wear a helmet for liability purposes. Problem solved. Get the BPA to print up brochures about the fantastic beaches on East Sand Island (bring a rain coat) and problem solved. Get one of the cruise lines to send one of their tender boats (I think they are called that, I was on one a couple of times) and have someone set up those lounge chairs and make sure you run the dividing ropes between the sets of chairs because some discerning cruise ship passengers wouldn't dare sit down with the riff raff from Carnival Cruise Lines. We could get the military involved, remember Noriega, yes, play really loud and obnoxious hair band music from the 80s, maybe White Snake or Ratt or Cinderella and again problem solved for it is well known that fish eating birds only enjoy classical music.
I know, I know I can go on and have (in your opinion) but when the Corps or BPA try to sell to you that they are serious about salmon recovery and that we can have our salmon and dams too because of all these things they do otherwise, you have to realize they aren't serious. They have for the most part ignored Judge Redden's order that they analyze lower Snake River dam removal. He ordered they do that in 2011 and they haven't started. The feds ignored many other things Redden ordered them to do and no one is holding them accountable.
The BPA will proudly proclaim that they are making a dent in northern pikeminnow (squawfish) predation with their 20 some odd year program that pays a bounty for those fish to anglers who catch them and fill out all the paperwork in order to qualify. And I won't, as an angler, completely poo poo that program, but I will point out that if you are serious about getting rid of some type of fish, a small bounty and not allowing a two rod endorsement is really doing the minimum. You could trap them in nets and dump the pikeminnow in trashcans and close the lid, releasing any by-catch for the most part unharmed. You could electrofish the Snake and Columbia rivers culling the pikeminnow and releasing any by-catch unharmed. You could allow pikeminnow anglers to buy a special permit that allows them some multiple rod endorsement and also streamline the paperwork so they don't have to go to a check-in point and fill out paperwork in the early morning hours and then force them to return to that same checkpoint during a short window of time in the afternoon to check in their fish. You could also allow online registration and if an angler wants to, allow them to fish more than one section of river or reservoir on the Columbia or Snake, so if they end the day closer to a checkpoint they didn't register at, it's OK to let them turn in the fish at a more convenient location due to the fact that you don't have the manpower to have more robust check in time windows each day. Just some ideas that would mean you were being more serious than you currently are. Of course, the only serious solution to stopping the impending extinction of Snake River wild salmon and wild steelhead is breaching four dams on the lower Snake River by embracing alternate means of electricity production and alternate means of transport.
But you see, they are not serious about it. To the handful of anglers who actually make a living each year through the pikeminnow bounty program, my hat is off to you and I wish you continued good luck and hope the program stays in place until at least the dams are breached (that ought to get a lot of you through to retirement). I dabbled in that this year and when I first started, I thought man I am going to make a killing because the first two fish I caught that early May day were northern pikeminnow, but then I started catching peamouth minnow, which don't have a bounty on them, and then each subsequent day I went fishing, I caught fish all day long. Almost everyday I was out there would have been days many fishermen only dream about, but I was focused on catching pikeminnow, so no matter how big or beautiful or how hard these non pikeminnow fought I was disappointed over and over and over again. Trouble was, I was catching, peamouth, smallmouth bass, suckers, one steelhead smolt (which kind of turns your stomach when you do that), spent steelhead with nasty lesions and just didn't look fit to touch (like they had some flesh eating bacteria or something), and well everything else the river had to offer except Chinook and sturgeon. My rod was bent often, my line was tight often, but pikeminnow weren't going for my offerings and so I took my hat off and saluted you guys who make a living at that. Really, that is an impressive feat to me. You guys need your own show on the Discovery Channel. But the larger issue is there are more efficient ways to remove pikeminnow, therefore program sponsors, and BPA funds it, you aren't being serious.
Where was I, eh, that's enough for now, I could talk about the recent study that pinpoints the fish populations the sea lions are impacting the most, but I try to stay focused on the goal, eye on the ball, and only dabble in the minutia for laughs. Seriously, endless volleyball tournaments on East Sand Island, problem solved and no need for a pilot study. If you want to get bloody like you do with the sea lions, then go with the Ducks Unlimited plan. If you want to enhance the motorsport industry get some ATV-owning western Oregonians and Washingtonians and let them set up some sort of racing course on the island. I'm really here to help. And I'm here all week. Enjoy the veal.