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Judge Orders Agencies to Rewrite Salmon Plan

by Mitch Lies, Staff Writer
Capital Press, October 6, 2006

Idaho delegation says ruling will do more harm than good

Idaho's congressional delegation reacted sharply last week to a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Redden ordering federal agencies to enhance salmon protection in their rewrite of a salmon recovery plan for the Upper Snake River.

In a joint news release issued Sept. 27, Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Republican Reps. Mike Simpson and Butch Otter said they would take whatever action is necessary "to turn back this explicit threat to Idaho's water and future."

Norm Semanko, spokesman for the Coalition for Idaho Water, added Redden's order made it clear "we must now seriously consider the need for legislative intervention by Congress to protect our water."

Redden Sept. 26 formally ordered NOAA Fisheries and the Bureau of Reclamation to resubmit a salmon recovery plan, called a biological opinion, with more emphasis on salmon protections. Redden rejected the original plan May 23. The order puts at jeopardy farm health and the economic health of a region dependent on water supplies generated from Bureau of Reclamation water projects, the delegation said.

"Judge Redden's decision will harm electricity ratepayers, agricultural producers, small communities and businesses in the Pacific Northwest while providing limited, if any, benefit to salmon recovery efforts," Simpson said.

"This ruling signals a clear threat to the potential for a long-term solution and undermines the efforts undertaken so far to meaningfully address this issue," Crapo said.

Environmentalists and fishing groups praised the ruling and said it sent a clear message to federal agencies that the court will take action if the agencies fail to deliver a plan the court deems suitable.

"The court's order is pretty clear," said Todd True, an attorney for the environmental law firm Earthjustice in a statement released Sept. 27.

"It gives the government one last fair warning that if it doesn't do what the law requires and protect Snake River salmon, the court will have to step in and ensure compliance with the law in light of the agencies' recalcitrance and repeated failure."

"With this order, the judge gave them a clear warning," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association. "Their days of dodge and denial are over."

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said the agency is working with a consortium of states and tribes to address concerns advanced by Redden.

"We're never happy when a judge tells you you haven't met the requirements of the law, but we're certainly on the road to fixing those problems," he said.

NOAA is on schedule to comply with a February deadline to submit a biological opinion for hydropower dam operations on the lower Snake and Columbia River system, Gorman said, but the agency may request an extension. The Upper Snake plan is due four months after the downstream biological opinion is submitted.

Redden also ordered the agencies to submit quarterly status reports to the court.

Semanko said several aspects of Redden's order were disturbing, including a signal that protecting salmon under the Endangered Species Act is more important than adhering to terms in the Snake River Basin Adjudication Agreement.

"There are some very troubling statements included in the judge's order which signal where he is headed: More Idaho water for flow augmentation, regardless of what the Snake River Basin Adjudication Agreement approved by Congress says, and regardless of whether it shuts down water use or what the adverse impacts are to our economy and our way of life," Semanko said.

Under Redden's ruling, the Bureau of Reclamation will continue to operate the Upper Snake River dams under the 2005 biological opinion that Redden previously remanded. Redden warned, however, that if he is not satisfied with the agencies' progress, he may take more stringent action. One alternative, Gorman said, would be for the court to assume management of the dams.

Mitch Lies, Staff Writer is based in Salem.
Judge Orders Agencies to Rewrite Salmon Plan
Capital Press, October 6, 2006

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