Judge Made the Right Call
The feds didn't just lose in court Thursday. Their faulty plan for saving Idaho salmon was hammered.
In rejecting the Bush administration's salmon strategy, known as a biological opinion, U.S. District Judge James Redden was uncompromising, direct and correct. On repeated occasions -- in dismissing several glaring shortcomings in the plan -- Redden derided the federal government for "arbitrary and capricious" decision-making.
His far-reaching ruling reopens the possibility of breaching the four dams in the lower Snake River in Washington. The Bush administration tried to use this recovery plan to rule out, prematurely, the idea of breaching dams to help salmon migrate back to Idaho.
Over the course of 58 pages, Redden pointedly reminded the federal government -- and all of us in the Northwest -- what a legitimate plan for saving salmon ought to look like:
This idea wasn't just an assault on common sense. As Redden correctly noted, this idea would allow the federal government to duck accountability for the lethal effects of the region's dams. By rejecting this flawed logic, Redden reinforces the fact that the federal Endangered Species Act is on the books to save salmon, not preserve dams.
This standard befits one of the region's icons, a remarkable migrant that symbolizes the Northwest's wildness. This standard helps ensure the long-term health of rivers -- and bears, bull trout, eagles and other rare species whose future is tied to the salmon's. And this standard is essential to sustaining a fishery worth tens of millions of dollars each year to Riggins, Stanley, Challis and Salmon.
Redden is right: Idaho salmon can't afford to muddle along for a few years and hope for help later.
Since September, when NOAA Fisheries trotted out this blueprint, Idaho's spring chinook returns have been so low that the Idaho Fish and Game Commission scaled back the fishing season to four days a week. We're not drawing cause and effect connection between the NOAA Fisheries plan and this year's unexplained drop in salmon numbers. We are pointing out that the longer we kick this legal can down the road, the worse for our fish, our economy and our region.
But don't blame Redden. He has been a consistent and thoughtful champion for Idaho's salmon, and Thursday's ruling continues that legacy. Redden laid down a challenge not just to NOAA Fisheries, but to all of us who have an emotional stake in salmon recovery and an economic stake in our state's future:
Do it right.
What's more, he offered some solid advice on how to do it.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs