NOAA Chief Lubchenco
by Jeff Barnard, AP Environmental Writer
Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be attending what is likely to be the last court hearing before a ruling on how to run hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin without driving wild salmon to extinction.
NOAA Fisheries Service spokesman Brian Gorman said Tuesday that U.S. District Judge James Redden agreed to move the hearing to Nov. 23 in Portland, Ore., to accommodate her.
Gorman says this is the first time a head of NOAA has attended a hearing in the long-running case. She is to be an observer, and will not be called as a witness.
The hearing is a chance for the judge to quiz lawyers for the various sides on their latest filings before ruling. Both sides have asked him to rule soon on the merits of the case.
An Oregon State University marine ecologist, Lubchenco has taken more interest in saving Columbia Basin salmon than her predecessors. She made a trip to the Northwest to listen to people involved in the issue, and announced the Obama administration's changes to the plan.
The plan, known as a biological opinion, is a requirement of the Endangered Species Act, and covers dam operations, habitat improvements, hatchery operations and predator controls to restore threatened and endangered salmon to healthy populations.
Salmon advocates still don't think the changes Lubchenco announced to the Bush administration's plan - increased monitoring and research, climate considerations, new triggers for taking stronger conservation measures, and a fallback position that considers breaching some dams on the Snake River in Washington - are anything to cheer about, but welcomed her interest.
"We have had more attention from this NOAA administration on this issue than I can ever remember in the last 12 years," said Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director for Save Our Wild Salmon. "I think that's really big. I trust she's coming because she is interested to learn about what is happening about the court discussion and the rest of it."
Lubchenco did not immediately respond to an e-mail for comment.
Related Pages: If Invasive Mussels Get Into Columbia, Salmon are In Trouble by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian, 8/21/9
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