the film
Commentaries and editorials

Salmon are Flourishing
Because of Judge's Orders

by Michael C. Blumm
The Oregonian, November 8, 2014

We must protect them all.

Lower Granite Dam in remote SE Washington, backs up reservoir water nearly forty miles all the way to the Idaho border. Terry Flores, head of an industry-sponsored group called Northwest RiverPartners, claims in an Oct. 15 guest column that the near-record returns of Columbia River salmon this year are due to the so-called 2008 "fish accords." This is a completely unsupportable assertion.

Under the accords, the state of Washington and several Columbia Basin tribes agreed to monetary compensation (mostly applied to habitat restoration) in return for dropping their participation in a lawsuit alleging that the federal government has continued to violate its obligations under the Endangered Species Act through its operation of federal Columbia Basin dams.

Salmon advocates thought those payments were a sellout.

Oregon, to its great credit, didn't take the money during the administrations of governors Ted Kulongoski or John Kitzhaber. Unlike Washington, Oregon refused to be bought off. And the resulting litigation has justified the state's position.

That Columbia River salmon runs are high this year is undeniable. Many factors have contributed, and improved habitat conditions in the Columbia are no doubt a part of the equation. Flores tried to claim that the habitat improvements resulting from the accords are the reason for the improved run sizes, but habitat improvements are long-term investments, not likely to affect current run sizes.

Flores neglected to mention that run-size increases are due, in all probability, to U.S. District Judge James Redden's courageous orders to government agencies to spill water over the dams to facilitate fish passage. In so doing, he rejected the opposition of the federal dam operators, principally Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which objected to salmon spills because they cost hydropower money. But spills save salmon, scientific studies show, and so did Judge Redden's orders.

Flores and his clients hope they can influence the state of Oregon to take the money -- like Washington did -- and drop the ongoing case because Judge Redden, who learned to reject the arguments proffered by Flores' clients, recently retired from the case. Judge Michael Simon now presides.

Dropping the federal lawsuit would be the worst outcome for Columbia River salmon and those who care about them. The spills that are essential to salmon co-existence with the dam system will not continue without judicial oversight.

In this election season, in which there has been so much made of alleged corruption, the litigation over Columbia River salmon stands as an exemplary example of the state of Oregon's adherence to principle over money. Voters should take some comfort in that fact. Sometimes the state takes -- and maintains -- positions that make us proud that we're Oregonians.

Michael C. Blumm is Jeffery Bain Scholar and professor of law at Lewis and Clark Law School and author of "Sacrificing the Salmon: A Legal and Policy History of the Decline of Columbia River Salmon."
Salmon are Flourishing Because of Judge's Orders
The Oregonian, November 8, 2014

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation