Your Government at Work—An Overview
"We have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious
is the duty of intelligent men." George Orwell, 1946

© 2011 NRIC

We are eyewitness to an epic ecological crime against humanity—the craven devastation of one of the world’s unique, perpetually renewable resources, the wild salmon produced in pristine headwaters of the Snake River. The resulting ecological, economic and social damage is so great and widespread it is almost incomprehensible.

U.S. Government agencies and affiliated pork barrel economic interests in the Columbia River Basin for decades subverted every salmon protection law from the 1855 treaty-reserved rights of Native American Indians, through the sweeping salmon restoration mandate of the 1980 Northwest Power Act. They drove Snake River salmon to the threshold of extinction. Now they strive to subvert the law of last resort, the Endangered Species Act.

This overview of the situation is the first in a series of virtual occasional papers by which The Last Salmon Ceremony will bear witness to this epic betrayal of the public trust and its disastrous consequences for the Northwest and Nation. These virtual occasional papers will be launched into cyberspace as perpetually retrievable messages in bottles so future generations can hold accountable the salmon killers who lost their moral bearings and egregiously betrayed the public trust.

All Quiet on the Northwest Salmon Front

Presently it’s deceptively quiet on the Northwest Salmon Front. All eyes and ears are turned toward the U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon awaiting a decision on the scientifically, legally and morally corrupt ESA Biological Opinion prepared by NOAA fisheries, choreographed behind the scenes by Bonneville Power Administration.

The relative lull provides opportunity to step back and review how Bonneville and its Columbia River Pork Alliance—the politically dominant regional clique of compromised bureaucrats, monopolists, crony capitalists, entrenched pork barrel economic interests, and allied politicians who feed off public largess and each other— drove Snake River salmon onto the List of Endangered Species,  and drove the  Northwest  and the Nation into the ditch causing ecological, economic and social damage of truly epic proportions.

Context Counts

The BiOp before district court Judge James A. Redden can only be understood in context. It is simply the latest manifestation of the half-century-long betrayal of the public trust and subverting of the law that drove Snake River salmon onto the List of Endangered Species.

The dark, sordid history is reported at length elsewhere. In short, it all started with four pork barrel dams constructed 1960-1975 on the lower Snake River commons by the Army Corps of Engineers at the close of the grand orgy of big dam building in the Columbia River Basin. Contrary to congressional intent in authorizing the dams, and despite long-standing warnings from fishery agencies, the Corps negligently failed to make any provision for juvenile salmon from the vast pristine headwaters of the Snake River to migrate to the Pacific Ocean. Disaster happened.

The Corps for decades was in denial. It had to be dragged kicking and screaming to meaningfully address the disaster it had caused. Once that happened, Corps worker bees valiantly worked to retrofit the dams to make them less lethal to young fish, but with limited success. It was like pasting butterfly wings on pyramids in hopes of making them fly. The salmon continued their precipitous decline. The Corps and Bonneville eventually decided to take the fish out of the river and barge and truck them 400 miles to the lower Columbia River to be released.

The concrete hadn’t dried on the uppermost and last of the four lower Snake River dams to be completed before it was obvious the dams posed an existential threat to Snake River salmon. Congress soon declared the situation was an “emergency” and in 1980 enacted what is commonly called the Northwest Power Act. It called for restoring Snake River salmon, and other salmon populations decimated by the federal dams, to pre-dam levels. All federal agencies, notably including the Army Corps of Engineers which built the dams and Bonneville Power Administration which sells the power, were required to treat salmon equally with hydropower production and other uses of the river. The Act gave energy conservation priority for mitigating the expected reduction in hydropower generation.

To get the enhanced pork/political power they wanted from the Act, Bonneville and allied pork barrel economic interests that had worked so hard to subvert all previous salmon protection laws supported the salmon restoration provisions. It was a classic bait and switch con. The ink wasn’t dry on the Act before Bonneville and its pork barrel friends set out to make sure the salmon restoration promise of the Act met the same fate as all previous Snake River salmon protection laws.

They succeeded.

Boy howdy, did they succeed. They didn’t just subvert the Act; they literally transmogrified it into an existential threat to Snake River salmon, and for good measure, politically corrupted scientific salmon management throughout the Columbia River Basin, an area larger than France. Their success at subverting the Power Act—subject of a future virtual occasional paper—made it inevitable that the Endangered Species Act would be invoked. And it came to pass. Bonneville and its Pork Alliance then set out to subvert the ESA.

Subverting The Law of Last Resort

National Marine Fisheries Service, now NOAA Fisheries, had the duty to determine if Snake River salmon qualified for listing under the ESA, a duty it had previously dodged. When the Power Act became law in 1980, NMFS quickly dropped an ongoing “informal” snail’s-pace investigation to see if Snake River salmon qualified for listing under the ESA. The agency asserted that the Power Act required Snake River salmon be restored to pre-dam levels, a far higher standard than the ESA, therefore, NMFS’ informal ESA investigation was moot.  NMFS handed the hot potato over to the new Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Council charged by the Power Act to develop a plan to restore to pre-dam levels all salmon decimated by the Federal Columbia River Power System.

Bonneville’s Pork Alliance and the Northwest Power Council, for the most part notably excepting its Oregon members, conspired to subvert the Power Act and maintain the deadly status quo at the four lower Snake River dams. Snake River salmon continued their slide toward extinction. Tribal and non-tribal salmon advocates petitioned to have the fish listed under the ESA. Listing was a foregone conclusion—that NMFS avoided as long as possible.  
The Biological Opinion is the document required by the ESA in which NMFS is to identify the factors responsible for the salmon being listed, and to define measures that must be taken to ensure those causative factors don’t jeopardize the future recovery of the listed species sufficiently to warrant taking them off the list. It is not, as some mistakenly think, the “recovery plan” required by the Act. Not that that mattered to NMFS, now NOAA Fisheries, which argued that the ESA requires only that a recovery plan be prepared, not that the fish actually have to be recovered. You read that correctly.

In its first BiOp in 2000 NMFS dutifully came to the foregone conclusion that the dysfunctional dams on the lower Snake River did jeopardize the existence of wild salmon produced in the vast pristine headwaters of the Snake River. Exhibiting its characteristic political cowardice, NMFS made a clumsy attempt at cobbling together a clutch of non-dam measures including tributary habitat improvement projects, further restrictions on fisheries, etc., which it pretended would off-set the carnage at the four lower Snake RIver dams. The dams would continue to operate pretty much as usual. Salmon advocates sued and won. It was back to the drawing board for NMFS.

In 2000 George W. Bush was appointed President of the United States. Darkness fell on the Snake River commons.

Steve Wright climbed the ladder at Bonneville into the upper echelon of its Snake River salmon-killing culture, first as acting Administrator in 2000, then two years later appointed  Administrator.

Bob Lohn joined the Snake River salmon-killing culture in 1986 as general counsel for the Northwest Power Council. He moved to Bonneville, then back to the Council, all key positions from which to subvert the Snake RIver salmon restoration provisions of the Power Act. In 2001 the G.W. Bush Administration, no doubt acting on the prerogative of Washington Senator Patty Murray, appointed Lohn Northwest Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. This is a classic example of the Columbia River Pork Alliance revolving door that cycles products of the salmon-killing culture through the body politic as destructive free radicals until they retire in relative luxury at the expense of the public whose money they took and whose trust they betrayed.

When the G.W. Bush Administration took power, the salmon restoration provisions of the Northwest Power Act had long ago been shoved down the Memory Hole by the corrupt Northwest Power Council, notably excepting its Oregon members. In his new gig at NOAA Fisheries Lohn, along with his co-conspirator Wright at Bonneville, now could concentrate on protecting the four dysfunctional lower Snake River dams from the ESA.

With the support of the Columbia River Pork Alliance, and the protection of powerful politicians, notably Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell, Wright and Lohn mounted a tag-team assault on the ESA. The objective: same as it had been for decades, protect the four dysfunctional pork barrel dams on the Lower Snake River against all salmon protection/restoration laws, no matter what the cost now and in the future.

Their strategy had five major, interrelated, prongs:

1] A relentless multi-million dollar propaganda campaign based on the Tobacco industry model. The objective was/is to dupe the public, the Congress and, in time, the Obama Administration. And quite extraordinary, to blatantly try to use the news media to influence the U.S. District Court judge hearing salmon advocates’ suit against the BiOp.

 2] Reinterpret the ESA to the point it would be legally toothless.

 3] Torture the “science” until it confessed that a BiOp with measures for Snake River salmon based on patently obvious smoke and mirrors would meet their new debased requirements of the ESA; muzzle, intimidate and try to make unemployed the scientists that won’t play along.

Save Our Wild Salmon has an excellent review of the “best available science” canard . See also @ http://www.wdafs.org/ the June 27, 2011 resolution of the Western Division American Fisheries Society that asserts:

  . . . based on the best scientific information available, it is the position of the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society that the four lower Snake River dams and reservoirs are a significant threat to the continued existence of remaining Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon; and that if society-at-large wishes to restore Snake River salmon, steelhead, Pacific lamprey, and white sturgeon to sustainable, fishable levels, then a significant portion of the lower Snake River must be returned to a free-flowing condition by breaching the four lower Snake River dams. . .”

4] Progressively tighten the Columbia River Pork Alliance grip on the Northwest congressional delegation, other key members of Congress and, in due time, the Obama Administration. Set the stage for a congressional end-run on the ESA once the judge issues his decision.

5] Bribe/blackmail economically stressed Native American Indian tribes to withdraw their opposition to the scientifically, legally and morally corrupt BiOp. And further, make them agree now that for the next 10 years the federal agencies have met all the requirements not only of the ESA, but of the Clean Water Act and Northwest Power Act. Wait, there’s more: make the tribes agree to “work together [with Bonneville] to support these agreements in all appropriate venues,” i.e., in public statements, press releases, testimony before Congress, etc. [Which Bonneville will helpfully script and choreograph.]

In exchange, Bonneville’s craven BuyOps, a.k.a. “Accords,” agree to give tribes funds to implement salmon habitat improvement projects--projects to which the tribes are entitled without having to sell Bonneville their sovereign rights to hold the federal government accountable to the law. And without having to play tame Indian roles in Steve Wright’s Kill Snake River Salmon Wild West Show for the next 10 years. Ten years? Yeah, right. Blackmailers are like the living dead, they just keep coming back.

“BPA is pleased to add the Kalispel Tribe to the growing list of Columbia Basin tribes and states that are working together, in partnership, to provide on-the-ground benefits for fish and wildlife, said Lorri Bodi, vice president, BPA Environment, Fish and Wildlife. “These agreements show that the collaboration encouraged by Judge James Redden is the most effective way to leverage results.” Bonneville Power Administration press release on draft “Accord” with Kalispel Tribe, July 11, 2011.

As the late comedienne Lily Tomlin once said, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s impossible to keep up.”

Wright and Lohn pursued this five-prong strategy with vigor through a series of BiOps all of which the federal court found inadequate and bounced back for a redo.  Later in the game they kept their eyes on the prize: the incoming Obama Administration. It was imperative to their success that they dupe the incoming president into keeping Wright at the helm of Bonneville, and into adopting the rouge and mascara make-over of the corrupt G.W. Bush BiOp. They succeeded. How they pulled off this caper will be the subject of a future virtual occasional paper.

In early 2009 the Obama Administration appointed Jane Lubchenco, faculty member at Oregon State University, as NOAA Administrator. She doubtless was appointed on the basis of her impressive academic CV and, of course, her total ignorance of the seamy underbelly of Columbia/Snake Rivers salmon issues.

Bonneville and NOAA Fisheries operatives orchestrated and choreographed a series of briefings that rolled the clueless academic. She was paraded before U.S. District Court Judge Redden like a trick pony with instructions to stamp three times: Best. Available. Science. Her minders took her on tightly scripted and choreographed public relations tours. They coached her on public statements praising the BiOp, all of which included the key words of Bonneville’s script. Fully rolled, she helped roll the President of the United States into adopting as his own the scientifically, legally and morally corrupt G.W. Bush BiOp.

Behold the power of the Columbia River Pork Alliance!  Tremble for the fate of wild Snake River salmon, a genetic heritage millions of years in the making, since the Ice Age adapted to infinite habitat niches up to a 1000 miles inland and 7500 feet elevation; unique in the world.

Author Steve Hawley neatly summed it all up in his new book Recovering a Lost River, a must-read rare look at the seamy underbelly of the Great Snake River Salmon Hoax:

“Nowhere else in the world has the mandate to protect and restore a species been so well buttressed by federal laws, international treaties, and high court directives. And nowhere has that mandate been as successfully evaded through a skillfully directed symphony of public-relations scams, filthy politics, and crooked science...”

BiOp Bottom Line for Snake River Salmon

One of the more transparent scams underpinning the BiOp is Bonneville’s and NOAA Fisheries’ consistent lumping together of all listed species in the Columbia River Basin in a transparent effort to hide the trees in the forest.  With effort you can tease out of the many thousands of pages what the BiOp proposes for wild salmon produced in the vast pristine habitats of the Snake River Basin. NOAA Fisheries staff doesn’t deign to respond to repeated requests for help doing this.  A future virtual occasional paper will be devoted to this subject.

 In short, for Snake River salmon the BiOp proposes to:

a] Do more of what drove them onto the list of endangered species, i.e., strain more young downstream migrants out of the river and haul them in trucks and barges  to the lower Columbia River;

b] Do less of what is proven to improve survival of juvenile migrants, i.e., release water from storage reservoirs to help flush the juvenile fish through the series of predator-invested slack-water reservoirs, and spill water and juvenile fish past the dams. In fact, do less of both than is currently required by court order.

c] Lavish ratepayer money on political/legal eye-wash projects that are irrelevant to the fate of wild Snake River salmon, notably relatively pin-point size habitat improvement projects within the largest contiguous wilderness and roadless land complex in the coterminous United States.

d] Eye of newt. [Placeholder for other cockamamie smoke and mirrors actions which will be examined in a subsequent virtual occasional paper.]

Justice Department lawyers defending the BiOp valiantly tried to sell this garbage to the judge. It often turned into farce. For example, trying to justify reducing the current court-ordered level of spill, lawyer Coby Howell argued, “Your honor, that [extra water] comes with a cost. And I’m not talking about financial cost. I’m talking about carbon. The more we spill the more we are going to have to offset that with natural gas and coal.”
That’s the kind of lie you’d expect of a lawyer representing the Gambino Mob, not one representing the United States of America.  Maybe it wasn’t a lie. Maybe Howell didn’t get the memo about the provisions of the 1980 NW Power Act mandating conservation as the priority resource for replacing any hydropower forgone to protect salmon.  Maybe he hadn’t heard that private sector entrepreneurs had already built more wind generators than necessary to replace the output of the four lower Snake River dams three times over, with more in the works and no place to sell the output during the spring when Snake River salmon need water the most and there is a glut of power in the region.

This is the same fellow that tried to make excuses for the continuing decline of salmon produced in key pristine Snake River salmon habitat despite Bonneville’s and NOAA FIsheries' relentless “we're on the right path--we’ve turned the corner” propaganda to the contrary. He told the judge, in effect, that the decline was caused by too many fish on the spawning grounds. Voila! “Best available science.” Yes siree, Bob! More on this and similar gems in a future virtual occasional paper.

 How Can They Do This?

It’s a reasonable question. How can employees of government agencies charged not just with keeping Snake River salmon from going extinct, but with restoring them to pre-dam levels, bring themselves to betray the public trust so egregiously? And be proud of it!

There is a robust scientific literature on this phenomenon, but George Orwell explained it most elegantly in his signature work 1984 with the term “doublethink.”

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt.

. . . the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them and to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies - all this is indispensably necessary.”

The BiOp and the half-century of deceit and corruption it is built on qualify as one of the greatest scientific hoaxes of all time. Hoaxes such as the Cardiff Giant, Piltdown Man, The Perpetual Motion Machine, and the more contemporary fraud of South Korean stem-cell researcher Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, damaged mostly the reputations of the perpetrators. The Great Snake River Salmon Hoax ranks number one in the cost to perpetrate, and number one in the cost of the ecological, economic and social damage it has caused.

The cruellest truth is that there long have been obvious win-win alternatives to the dysfunctional lower Snake River dams that go begging for attention. If the dams were breached, waterway shippers and irrigators could be kept whole at modest cost. The hydroelectric energy foregone could be easily replaced with conservation and wind generation; the long-term effect on electrical rates would be imperceptible. The net ecological, economic and social benefits would literally be mind-boggling.

Bonneville and its Pork Alliance allies know this. It doesn’t matter. They are driven by a self-replicating pork barrel culture that is locked in the past like a prehistoric insect in amber, obsessed with protecting the four dysfunctional dams on the lower Snake River at any cost—to others. Hey, it pays very well. And there is no accountability for the damage they cause.

Severe Turbulence Ahead

The present lull on the Northwest salmon front is deceptive.

Bonneville and its Pork Alliance have built a formidable political juggernaut which they think will continue to trump all salmon protection laws, including the law of last resort, the ESA. They have captured or silenced virtually the entire NW congressional delegation and three of the four Governors, Oregon Governor Kitzhaber being the exception. With help from powerful members of the Northwest congressional delegation, Bonneville and NOAA Fisheries duped the clueless Obama White House into supporting the tarted-up corrupt G.W. BiOp now before Judge Redden. With anti-environmental demagogues in charge of important House committees, the salmon killers think the political stars are in alignment to achieve their long-sought Final Solution to salmon interfering with the Columbia River Pork Alliance’s theft of the Snake River commons.

Stay tuned. Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.