Feds Can't Wriggle Off
A top federal court slams the Bush administration's
weak "recovery" plan for endangered Columbia salmon
Federal judges have had enough of the feigned commitment by the Bush administration to restore endangered salmon in the Columbia basin.
In an opinion that bristled with impatience and indignation, three judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco Monday rejected the Bush administration's salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Judge Sidney R. Thomas, who wrote the opinion, described the federal government's plan as "analytical sleight of hand" that counted dead fish as though they were alive, and that seemed to imply that salmon "could be gradually destroyed, so long as each step on the path to destruction is sufficiently modest."
The appeals court ruling echoed the findings of Portland U.S. District Judge James Redden, who in 2005 tossed out the Bush administration's plan for remedying the damage that hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers do to federally protected salmon. The Bush administration appealed Redden's ruling to the 9th Circuit.
Now there are three more federal judges on record demanding that the Bush administration do more than go through the motions on salmon recovery. The federal agencies, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, have spent months preparing a new plan for the Columbia basin, and are expected to present it next month.
This one had better be good. The last plan, ridiculed by the appeals court judges Monday, included the bizarre argument that the Columbia and Snake river dams were immutable objects, simply part of the Northwest landscape, and that much of the harm they do to salmon should be disregarded.
The new plan also must recognize that the federal Endangered Species Act requires actions that lead to the recovery of species. For years now, the Bush administration has operated as though it is good enough to ensure that endangered fish don't go extinct on its watch. As the appeals court said, "ESA compliance is not optional."
We share the view that Judge Redden has expressed that it's still possible to restore salmon without breaching major dams, but only if the federal agencies sustain real efforts on dam operations, fish passage, habitat and hatchery improvements and harvest controls.
What's needed now is a real and lasting commitment to restoring salmon, not another plan that sidesteps the responsibility, or pushes it downstream another few decades. The appeals judges warned of a "slow slide into oblivion" for the endangered salmon. For a Northwest icon, it's now do or die time.
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