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"God Squad" panel recommends letting Idaho sockeye salmon run go extinct
The Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho – A presidentially appointed panel nicknamed the 'God Squad' has recommended that Idaho's run of endangered sockeye salmon to central Idaho's Redfish Lake be allowed to go extinct.
The 11-member Independent Science Review Panel cites dams and other downstream factors as reasons for ending a program that is attempting to keep the population viable.
"Not only are these limiting conditions not likely to change, the fish themselves are likely to be changing as a result of present intensive propagation and rearing procedures so that their viability even under restored conditions is increasingly in doubt," the panel wrote.
Because of that, the panel says a captive breeding-and-rearing program designed to keep the fish from going extinct should be ended, which biologists say would doom the run.
The federal Endangered Species Act requires the federal government to work to prevent extinctions unless the review panel votes to eliminate the species.
Scientists say that about 35,000 sockeye used to return to Redfish Lake, but only six returned in 2005.
Currently, a program that costs $2 million a year based at a hatchery in Eagle generates about 160,000 smolts — young salmon — that are released for their trip to the ocean and back.
Precautions are taken to prevent inbreeding and genetic disorders, and the fish are released at different ages to spread the risk.
"This is a safety-net program," Judi Danielson, an Idaho member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, told The Idaho Statesman. "Actually we should be increasing it more."
The council reviews salmon funding by the Bonneville Power Administration. The regional power marketing agency sells electricity from its Columbia Basin Hydroelectric dams and also pays for damage to salmon habitat by spending money on hatcheries.
Some officials say allowing the salmon run to Redfish Lake to go extinct is unlikely, but that the panel's recommendation could cause changes in how the program to manage the fish is operated.
"When these things aren't working, it's time to re-evaluate the premise on which a strategy is based, and it seems like it's time to do that for the sockeye salmon," said Eric Loudenslager, chairman of and a biology professor at Humboldt State University in California.
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