Salmon Judge's Message is
by Editorial Board
Idaho's salmon face a familiar plight, but the political environment finally may be favorable to the fish.
A federal judge has exhorted the region to save its iconic ocean-going fish for once and for all, and he's sending the right message. Let's see if a new White House and new regional lawmakers take up the challenge.
We hope they do.
This may be as fresh a chance as the fish will get.
James Redden took a noncommittal position Friday when he convened a hearing in a Portland courtroom. The U.S. district judge has thrown out two federal government plans for salmon recovery in the Northwest. He has on his docket a third plan, a holdover from the Bush administration.
Redden didn't drop any hints to the Obama administration - seeming to prefer a wait-and-see approach. Makes sense. We haven't seen how this new administration will try to save salmon, including the Idaho runs that have spent nearly two decades on the endangered species list.
We want the administration to make the most of the opportunity. Theirs is a chance to bring together agency experts, water users, Indian tribes and salmon advocates in an effort to move this issue out of the courts and move the fish away from the brink of extinction. Compared to its predecessors, we think this new administration will almost have to be more likely to heed Redden's call for consensus.
In the same vein, we're willing to give the Northwest's political leaders a chance. The tone has changed; gone is Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, who was an impediment to meaningful compromise that would put the salmon on an equal plane with utilities and water users. His successor, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has pledged to convene regional negotiations on salmon and has already spoken to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Newly elected 1st District Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, has also expressed an interest in the process.
Among those who have closely watched the region's protracted - and frustrating - salmon debate, Redden has achieved a certain star stature. His hearings and rulings have gone a long way in framing the issue during the past decade. The reactions have been predictable. To salmon advocates, Redden has been the voice of reason, saving the fragile fish from ill-conceived federal policy. To his detractors, Redden personified judicial activism.
The Redden who held court Friday was less judicial activist than community organizer. He summoned a region to the bargaining table.
Does the region have the guts and good sense to listen?
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