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Redden Wants to Finish Salmon Suit

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, February 15, 2010

Federal Judge James Redden U.S. District Judge James Redden continues to move the massive litigation over salmon and dams toward closure.

The Oregon judge asked the Obama administration Friday to tell him by Feb. 19 whether the new administration would incorporate its adaptive management plan into the 2008 biological opinion prepared on President Bush's watch. If they decide to take him up on his offer, he would give them three months to do it.

The opinion, or BiOp, is the federal government's 10-year plan for operating the federal dams and the other measures it plans to take to offset the dams' impact on 13 stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River watershed, an area larger than France. Oregon, environmentalists, fishermen, fishing businesses and the Nez Perce tribe have challenged the plan and earlier plans since 2001 in court.

Redden didn't give the federal agencies that manage the dams and the fisheries a pass on science. He told them they must do analysis on new information such as the impacts of climate change, and provide additional mitigation measures if the analysis shows they need it to avoid putting the fish in jeopardy.

Redden said they didn't have to start from scratch. And he likes what they have done so far.

"Federal defendants deserve credit for developing additional mitigation measures, enhanced research, monitoring and evaluation actions, new biological triggers, and contingency actions to address some of the flaws in the 2008 BiOp," Redden wrote.

He is sending a message to Oregon, the Nez Perce and the other plaintiffs that they should be looking for an end game other than a "train wreck" order that would create havoc across the Pacific Northwest by restricting hydropower and demanding additional water.

His subtext is if the Obama administration can do what he considers relatively easy steps - triggers that go into place to spill water and increase flows in time to stop dramatic fish declines and adequate up-front studies of dam breaching most scientists agree may be necessary to save Snake River fish - he probably can approve the BiOp.

The hitch is that federal managers have to address all the science out there, including that from people they don't agree with.

Redden doesn't want the train wreck that environmental attorneys say may be necessary to shift the politics enough to make those things happen. The question now is whether the Obama administration wants that train wreck, too.

The Democrats in charge have put off the dam studies and clearly don't want to consider reservoir drawdowns or other measures until fish populations are plummeting. They avoided true settlement talks with even Oregon and the Nez Perce tribe, let alone the environmentalists and fishing groups that have brought the suit.

The reality is that what appears relatively easy is hard politically, especially in the state of Washington. The 2010 election appears even dicier right now for Democrats like Washington Sen. Patty Murray.

I expect the administration to take Redden up on his offer. He signaled last May he would probably not approve the Bush plan unchanged.

But then we will have three months to see if Obama's people reach out to Oregon and the others for ideas that can end the stalemate.

And if they do, will the plaintiffs hold out for something no one can give them?

Related Sites:
Redden letter as PDF

Rocky Barker
Redden Wants to Finish Salmon Suit
Idaho Statesman, February 15, 2010

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