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Judge Questions Federal Salmon Plan

by Matthew Daly, Associated Press
The Oregonian - September 28, 2004

He wonders how it can work without dam removal

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge warned Tuesday 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, Ore., 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 NOAA Fisheries 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.

Redden, in a written order last week, questioned the conclusion by NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for salmon recovery, that four lower Snake River dams pose no threat to the salmon's continued existence. The conclusion was a reversal from the government's previous position that the dams were a serious enough threat to consider targeting some for removal.

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, American Indian tribes and commercial and sport fishing groups said they were frustrated by the government's new stance.

In a letter released Tuesday, 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.

"All we're saying is, use best science, not best politics, when managing these fish stocks," said Trey Carskadon, a board member for the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, one of the groups that signed the letter.

The draft plan "ignores the hundreds of businesses that depend upon strong salmon runs and the healthy habitat that accompanies them for their livelihoods," Carskadon said. "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 sport fishing, including California-based Patagonia Inc.; Luhr Jensen & Sons in Oregon; and Montrail Inc. of Washington state.

Those groups and others say the surest way to restore fish is to remove four dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern 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.

A spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, formerly known as National Marine Fisheries Service, said the draft meets legal requirements. The spokesman, Brian Gorman, said the agency welcomes the business group letter.

"That's why we put it out in draft form," he said. "Part of our intent is to ... solicit any kind of helpful criticism from anyone else who had something to add."

Gorman, who attended Tuesday's court hearing, said NOAA representatives assured Redden the agency is not headed for a train wreck. The final biological opinion is expected to be completed by Nov. 30.

Related Sites:
NOAA Fisheries:
Save Our Wild Salmon:

Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Judge Questions Federal Salmon Plan
The Oregonian, September 28, 2004

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