Ruling Brings Mixed Reactionby Dean Ferguson
Lewiston Tribune, May 27, 2005
Salmon advocates hailed a Portland, Ore., judge's decision Thursday that scraps the government's salmon recovery strategy as a victory for endangered fish.
U.S. District Judge James Redden will next rule June 10 on a request in the case that could stop barge traffic in the Lower Granite pool during July and August.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., criticized Redden's ruling.
"This is an unfortunate and unbalanced decision that will stifle commerce and cost jobs," McMorris told the Tribune.
However, Salmon advocates say the decision moves the region closer to restored fish runs, which they claim would pump $544 million each year into Idaho's economy.
"It's good news for us and the fish and everyone in the Northwest who depends on a salmon and steelhead economy," said Bert Bowler, a biologist with Idaho Rivers United.
Redden overruled the Bush administration's plan for endangered fish in the Columbia River system. Now, the federal government must consider dams' roles in killing fish under the Endangered Species Act, said Bowler.
"This all relates to the fact that the salmon plan has been ruled illegal," said Bowler. Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may be forced to alter how they operate dams.
The coalition of environmental, sportsmen and tribal groups has asked Redden to implement interim dam and river management operations while the government rewrites its salmon and dam strategy.
To help push fall chinook downstream this summer, the groups want a 10 percent increase in the velocity of the Snake and Columbia system, said Bowler. Also, they want a more aggressive spill program to kick fish over the dams.
One way to increase velocity is to decrease Lower Granite pool 10 feet below the minimum operating pool. The three dams further downriver would operate at minimum pool level.
News of Redden's decision shocked Rick Davis, Port of Clarkston manager.
If Redden now rules in favor of the request to immediately change dam operations, it would be bad news for the area economy, said Davis.
"That means that there'll be no barge traffic, no tour boat traffic. There'll be nothing."
Without the ability to barge petroleum, logs and chips, costs could increase in the area, said Davis.
"For the economics of this valley, it's going to hurt very much so," said Davis. "I think we all are at the point that we want to save the fish, but there's also other factors to be involved."
However, salmon advocates contend that salmon and steelhead are important for the economy.
"We believe that today's decision gives the Columbia Basin's sovereigns a tremendous opportunity to take the necessary actions to ensure that salmon are recovered to healthy, harvestable levels," said Rebecca A. Miles, chairwoman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. "The dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers have had a devastating affect on salmon, our health and our way of life."
The Nez Perce Tribe supports breaching the four Lower Snake River dams west of Clarkston as the best way to restore endangered fish runs.
Tribal attorney David Cummings said the federal government can appeal Redden's decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, that appeal would not stop Redden from ordering the dams to change their operations in the meantime.
Federal attorneys were unavailable for comment.
The decision comes just two weeks ahead of field hearings in Clarkston organized by U.S. Rep. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, and McMorris.
The duo have tagged the June 6 trip as a "Keeping the Columbia/Snake a working river."
The goal of the trip is to highlight the area's struggling economy and gain support for dredging the ports.
"The June 6th hearing will enable us to hear from those who are directly affected by these and other federal decisions," said McMorris.
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