Federal Judge Casts Doubt on Salmon Planby Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Seattle Times - September 29, 2004
He wonders how it can work without dam removal
WASHINGTON -- A federal judge warned yesterday that the Bush administration may be headed for a "train wreck" as officials finalize a plan for restoring dwindling salmon runs in the Northwest.
At a hearing in Portland, U.S. District Judge James Redden again expressed skepticism about the administration's dismissal of dam removal as an option for restoring salmon.
Redden, who oversees a federal case considering protection of the fish, said it was important to determine whether a revised plan being developed by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) would ensure the continued existence of the threatened fish.
At issue is a draft plan announced by federal authorities this month for balancing the needs of salmon against the demand for electricity, irrigation water and barge transportation provided by dams in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for salmon recovery, concluded that four lower Snake River dams pose no threat to the salmon's continued existence. That was a reversal from the government's previous position that the dams were a serious-enough threat to consider targeting some for removal. Redden also questioned the new conclusion last week.
The new plan, known as a biological opinion, has drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists, Indian tribes and others who say removing the dams is the best course to salmon recovery.
Utilities, irrigators, grain shippers and others who depend on the dams for power, navigation and water support the draft opinion, which would replace a 2000 opinion thrown out by Redden as inadequate because it did not assure that mandated measures to protect salmon would actually be carried out by federal agencies.
Conservationists, tribes and commercial- and sportfishing groups said they were frustrated by the government's new stance.
In a letter released yesterday, more than 400 fishing and outdoor-recreation-based businesses opposed the new federal salmon plan, saying it significantly lowers the bar for wild-salmon recovery.
The draft plan "ignores the hundreds of businesses that depend upon strong salmon runs and the healthy habitat that accompanies them for their livelihoods," said Trey Carskadon, a board member for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, one of the groups that signed the letter. "Instead of doing the things necessary to build the economy, it appears the federal government has decided that it's not their responsibility."
Companies that signed the letter include some of the largest names in outdoor gear and sportfishing, including California-based Patagonia; Luhr Jensen & Sons in Oregon; and Montrail of Washington.
Bush administration officials have dismissed dam removal from consideration, saying in a Sept. 9 draft opinion that the Endangered Species Act requires the fisheries service to consider only how the dams will be operated, not their existence.
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