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Salmon-Recovery Plan Needs Work, Judge Says

by Staff and News Service
Seattle Times, May 19, 2009

Map of Lower Snake River dams. PORTLAND - A judge is telling federal agencies they need to do more to help Columbia Basin salmon survive, or he will find the latest restoration plan in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

A Monday letter from U.S. District Judge James Redden to lawyers for all sides in a long-running court battle says he continues to have "serious reservations" because the standard for success is not strong enough.

Redden also wants a contingency plan that would include funding, congressional approvals and other steps needed to breach the lower Snake Rivers dams in the event other measures fail to restore salmon runs.

The letter sets the stage for a new round of out-of-court negotiations between plaintiffs - environmental groups and others - and the federal government over the program to revive endangered and threatened salmon runs in the Columbia River basin amid the operations of federal hydropower dams.

This time around, the plaintiffs will negotiate with a federal bureaucracy guided by the Obama administration and infused with new leadership at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, where marine scientist Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University professor, now serves as administrator.

Todd True, a plaintiff's attorney with Earthjustice, said he hopes breaching the dams can become an important component of the final plan.

"We hope that it will rise to the top of any objective evaluation," True said.

In years past, Redden has twice rejected federal plans for restoring the Columbia-basin salmon runs protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Redden, in his Monday letter, identified numerous changes he felt still are needed for the third plan to pass muster. They include:

Redden said "aggressive actions are necessary to save this vital [salmon] resource." He said that the litigants are finally starting to work together, and he is optimistic for the prospects of a new agreement.

He warned that the government has spent the past decade "treading water" and "we cannot afford to waste another decade."

Related Sites:
Download Judge Redden's letter

Staff and News Service
Salmon-Recovery Plan Needs Work, Judge Says
Seattle Times, May 19, 2009

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