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Obama Brass Angle for Answers

by PI Blog
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 22, 2009

Four top Obama administration officials will travel to Portland on Tuesday, to hear fish stories and angle for answers.

The delegation will meet with states and Indian tribes embroiled in the long-running legal battle over how to preserve and restore decimated salmon runs of the Columbia and Snake River system.

Yet, it appears the administration brass are courting controversy by conferring with only some of the players in litigation over whether the federal government has shirked its duty to salmon.

The Portland meeting comes after a May 15th letter in which Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski asked the administration for an on-scene meeting to offer ideas on how salmon wars can be resolved "without further intervention by the courts."

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge James Redden signaled dissatisfaction with a Columbia-Snake salmon recovery plan issued in 2008 by the Bush administration. He criticized federal agencies for "treading water and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act."

"All of us know that aggressive action is necessary to save this vital resource, and now is the time to make that happen," Redden wrote.

The Obama administration's delegation will be headed by Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Undersecretary of Commerce and boss of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It will also include Nancy Sutley, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Lubchenko is a renowned marine scientist who taught at Oregon State University until tapped for her present post.

The states of Washington and Oregon are in rival camps on the 2008 salmon recovery plan.

Oregon has opposed the plan and questioned government scientists' assumptions, especially about how Snake River salmon can recover. It has been joined by conservation groups, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Spokane Tribe.

Gov. Chris Gregoire endorsed the Bush administration plan in an April 30 letter to Sutley. The plan is backed by the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a half-dozen other Indian tribes.

According to an invitation letter, the administration's delegation will host "a listening session to hear first-hand the views of scientists and sovereigns involved in the preparation of the 2008 (plan)."

The meeting is for "sovereigns" only, giving an advantage to those who signed on to the 2008 plan.

The invitation would appear to exclude the fishing community - whose livelihoods depend on salmon - as well as conservation groups. The conservationists are plaintiffs in litigation pending before Judge Redden.

The Obama administration has asked Redden for a 30 to 60 day in which to review its policy on Columbia and Snake River salmon.

The review comes amidst latest evidence that salmon are not recovering as hoped, a less-than-predicted return of spring chinook salmon to the Columbia River. In order to reach spawning areas on the Middle Fork of Idaho's Snake River, the salmon will need to navigate eight dams.

The administration's delegation coming to Portland also includes Laura Davis, a top Interior Department official, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Terrence "Rock" Salt.

PI Blog
Obama Brass Angle for Answers
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 22, 2009

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