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Salmon Advocates Contest Dam Plan

by Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Capital Press, December 2, 2010

Opponents claim Feds' opinion lacks scientific merit

Salmon advocates have asked a federal judge to strike down the Obama administration's plan for making the Columbia Basin's hydroelectric dams safer for threatened and endangered salmon.

A motion for summary judgment filed recently in U.S. District Court in Portland argues that the latest revised plan - known as a biological opinion - is little different than the Bush administration's 2008 plan and has little scientific evidence to back it up.

"This administration has got to stop trying to put a pretty costume on an ugly plan and start following the law and science," Michael Garrity of American Rivers, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "We're dealing with people's livelihoods and keystone species on the brink of extinction."

The filing is part of the long-running legal battle over balancing the survival of 13 threatened and endangered species of salmon against cheap hydroelectric power from federally owned dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

U.S. District Judge James Redden is expected to rule sometime next year on whether the latest plan meets the demands of the Endangered Species Act. He has twice found past biological opinions wanting. In sending the plan back to the government in February, Redden warned that he would view with "heightened skepticism" efforts to deal with the issues superficially.

The deadline for the response from NOAA Fisheries Service is Dec. 23.

"It's obvious we think we are doing the right thing," said NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman. "Any scientists will tell you that ocean conditions are playing an important role (in recent increases in numbers of salmon returning to the basin). Those same scientists will also admit improvements to the dams and the way the river is managed are having a very beneficial effect on salmon returns."

Salmon advocates argued that the government needs to offer concrete actions to improve salmon survival, not just do a better job of keeping an eye on salmon as they continue to decline.

They noted that habitat improvements planned from 2007 to 2009 were often delayed or proved infeasible, and there was no effort to relate the habitat improvements that were made to increased salmon survival.

The motion added that changes to salmon hatchery operations that were supposed to improve the survival of wild salmon have not happened.

The 2010 plan assembles new information about climate change but does not offer any ways to help salmon survive the warming water temperatures and changing river flows that are expected, the motion argued. It added that the plan fails to follow the best available scientific information.

Jeff Barnard, Associated Press
Salmon Advocates Contest Dam Plan
Capital Press, December 2, 2010

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