Another Flawed Fish Planby Editorial Board
The Register-Guard, September 8, 2007
Latest version fails to consider major dam changes
Despite a clarion warning from U.S. District Judge James Redden, the Bush administration has failed to make major improvements in its strategy for boosting imperiled Columbia River salmon runs.
That could mean serious consequences from a no-nonsense judge who has thrown out the last two federal plans for protecting salmon because they did not satisfy the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
As recently as June, Redden directed federal agencies to fix glaring deficiencies in a draft version of the latest plan. "I'm going to be very picky because I want a bi-op that works," the judge said. "This is a very, very, very important document."
Based on the final plan submitted Thursday, it doesn't look as if the federal agencies responsible for crafting the strategy were listening. While the plan has yet to be formally assessed by federal fish biologists, it appears dismayingly similar to the previous plans that have been ruled illegal.
The new version includes a billion dollars in extra funding over the next decade for equipment to protect fish from the turbines that chew up young salmon, habitat restoration, hatchery productions and other measures. But it fails to consider any major changes to the region's hydroelectric dams, in particular the four dams on the Lower Snake River that represent the greatest threat to the survival of salmon runs in the Columbia basin.
Four years ago, the administration proposed a salmon strategy based on the ridiculous premise that dams are permanent fixtures of the ecosystem and therefore not subject to removal to help endangered salmon. Judge Redden ruled that plan illegal, in part because it refused to consider major changes to the dams. Earlier this year, that ruling was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the wording has changed in the latest plan, the administration has done nothing to change the underlying premise that the dams are here to stay, regardless of their debilitating effects on migrating salmon.
Nor does the new plan, referred to by federal agencies as a biological opinion, or "bi-op," provide the increases sought by the state of Oregon and others in the amount of water spilled over the dams to help juvenile fish migrating downstream.
It's an approach that seems unlikely to pass muster with a judge who has already warned that another faulty proposal will result in "very serious" consequences that could include breaching the Lower Snake dams, if necessary, to ensure the survival of Columbia River salmon.
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