Damnation! Judge says salmon more important than dams

Damnation! Judge says salmon more important than dams

"Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act."

Those words, written by U.S. District Judge James Redden  in a letter issued May 18, 2009, were addressed to various factions fighting over the recover plans for the Pacific Salmon, listed as endangered under the ESA. Redden went on to suggest that if the states, tribes, federal agencies, private business, commercial and recreational fishermen, and other stakeholders can't agree to recover plan soon, the courts may need to step in and take drastic action – including ordering the removal of dams from area rivers (especially four contentious fish-killed dams on the lower Snake River).

Spawned out salmon on the banks of the Puyallup River. When will we see this scene replayed in Idaho?
Spawned out salmon on the banks of the Puyallup River. Bald eagles have dined on the dead fish. When will we see this scene replayed in Idaho?

Redden's letter focused on the specific policies (or lack thereof) within the  2008 Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion issued by the Bush Administration as a half-assed answer to the issue of the ESA listing of salmon. The Redden letter expounds on the problems with this multi-jurisdictional approach to problem solving. "Only recently have they begun to commit the kind of financial and political capital necessary to save these threatened and endangered species, some of which are on the brink of extinction. We simply cannot afford to waste another decade."

One problem is there is little consensus of what should be done. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire praises the Bush policy. She told the EPA just this spring that the Bush policy would ensure the survival of 13 species of salmon while preserving dams and business opportunities. Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, though, said just this week that that policy is weak, fraught with policy problems, and lacks a scientific foundation.

Redden praised the ongoing efforts to cooperate and find collaborative solutions to a very difficult problem. But he also noted that in the end, if progress isn't made – and soon – his court may have the final say on what actions are taken to ensure the legal requirements  of the ESA listing are met.  What are some of those requirements?  Redden says, "Federal agencies must put together a contingency plan to study specific alternative hydro actions, such as (augmenting river) flow and/or reservoir draw downs as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail."

Washington, Oregon, Idaho, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, a host of tribal councils, and the Bonneville Power Administration, and others must work together to make hard decisions on this crucial problem. Otherwise, the courts will!

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