Ruling on Salmon Proposal
by Editorial Board
A federal judge's recent rejection of the latest plan for protecting endangered Columbia River salmon runs is disappointing.
After a decade of legal battles between the federal government and environmental lawyers, resolution to the debate is long overdue.
It's the third time U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has rejected the government's biological opinion, which outlines plans for mitigating the impact of Columbia River dams on salmon and steelhead.
To make matters more frustrating, the latest BiOp, as the plan is known, offers the best guide yet for restoring Columbia River salmon.
The current iteration is the result of an unprecedented collaboration -- encouraged by Redden -- that included the federal government; the states of Montana, Washington and Idaho; and the Colville, Shoshone-Bannock, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Yakama tribes.
The recovery plan comes with a price tag -- $1 billion over 10 years, paid by Northwest electric ratepayers -- and it was approved by a independent panel of fish scientists.
In other words, the BiOp is not mere lip service but a proposal with real teeth.
Redden's rejection of the plan seems to have breathed some new life into the anti-dam movement. American Rivers, a key plaintiff in the case and a vocal proponent of dam removal, was quick to claim victory.
"The lower Snake River represents the best chance for salmon recovery in the lower 48. The science points to the removal of the four dams on the lower Snake as the centerpiece of the necessary salmon recovery solution," said Brett Swift, Northwest regional director for American Rivers, in a statement released after Redden's decision.
Swift is wrong on a couple of counts. Alternatives to dam removal, such as improved passage around the turbines, are already reaping results.
But chief among Swift's mistaken impressions is the notion that Redden's ruling brings the government any closer to taking down the Snake River dams.
The judge's decision found that the 10-year plan provides "adequate protection" through 2013 and gives the government until 2014 to come up with similar details for the outlying years.
His language includes some harsh criticism. He describes the plan as "arbitrary and capricious" because it doesn't include the same level of detail for habitat improvements after 2013.
But to translate that as a turn toward dam removal is wishful thinking on Swift's part. Instead, the judge gives the government another two years to amend a plan that leaves dams in place.
What's more, he acknowledges that it's possible to provide adequate protection without removing dams.
That's not much for the anti-dam crowd to pin its hopes on.
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