State battles lions feasting on salmon

By Tim Fought

The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. - They're back. Much to the dismay of federal officials and fishermen, California sea lions have returned to the Bonneville Dam to feast on spring chinook as they swim up the Columbia River to spawn.

But the same tactics have famously flopped in the past against the Californians, who, like the Stellers, are federally protected and seem to know it. They prey on salmon that school up at the base of the dam waiting to go up the fish ladders toward spawning grounds.

andquot;We don't know for sure where he might be,andquot; Diane Fredlund with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.

Fredlund jokingly suggested showing C404's picture to salmon passing through and asking, andquot;Have you seen this face?andquot;

andquot;We're doing harassment against any pinniped we see out there,andquot; Fredlund said. andquot;If they show their flippers ...

andquot;We're just making it a little uncomfortable for them. That's about all we can do at this point.andquot;

For some reason, the Stellars have been easier to scare off.

California sea lions are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Stellers are listed under the stricter Endangered Species Act.

Only in the last five years have the Stellers become a threat to sturgeons, Corrarino said.

By some accounts the California sea lions get about 3 percent of the salmon runs before the fish make it over the Bonneville fish ladders.

Animal protection groups say agricultural runoff, the dams themselves and damage to spawning grounds are far-greater threats than the sea lions to the fragile salmon runs, which have shrunk to a small fraction of their historic highs.

Oregon farmers want to increase Columbia River irrigation: Economic development officials from Eastern Oregon packed a hearing room Thursday to drum up support for a contentious bill to siphon off 500,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Columbia River to help farmers grow higher value, water-intensive crops.

Increased water rights would help rural economies by allowing farmers to grow feedstocks such as canola and corn that would help drive the alternative fuel industry that policymakers are aggressively pushing in Salem, boosters said.

andquot;We have an opportunity to either grow that industry locally or we will be forced to import those crops from either the Midwest or from Malaysia and Indonesia,andquot; Ken Puzey, manager of the Port of Umatilla, told a Senate panel.

But environmentalists said the proposal, dubbed the andquot;Oasis Projectandquot; by supporters, would harm salmon that swim up the Columbia River each year into creeks to spawn throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

andquot;The fact that we have every salmon stock in the Columbia either extinct or listed under the Endangered Species Act says enough,andquot; said Rick George, a biologist who works for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, a group that opposes the bill. andquot;We have turned that habitat inside out.andquot;

The measure, which received its first legislative airing Thursday, would allow up to 500 million gallons a day to be pumped from the Columbia River, including during dry summer months when water is critical for both farmers and fish.

Advocates of the proposal said it could generate $220 million per year and as many as 7,300 new jobs by reinvigorating rural communities.

However, critics said it runs counter to Oregon's current andquot;bucket-in, bucket-outandquot; policy that requires water users to replace any water they withdraw from the river.

A better plan, some environmentalists say, would be to build water storage facilities and divert water from the Columbia during high flow periods in the winter months. But water specialists said that would cost millions of dollars.

In neighboring Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire cleared the way for more withdrawals from the river to make additional irrigation water available to farmers on that side of the river.

Of the water that's diverted from the Columbia for irrigation in the Northwest, Washington already pulls over 30 percent while Oregon takes just 7 percent, according to advocates of the bill.