by Deb Courson
SALEM, Ore. - An offer to try something new and different is on the table for restoring endangered salmon.
The state and salmon-recovery interests want a settlement judge appointed, believing such a move could improve discussions. The federal government has rejected the offer, noting that current habitat projects already are improving salmon survival rates at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers - something salmon advocates dispute.
Brett Brownscombe, a policy adviser for the Governor's Natural Resources Office, is disappointed by the feds' decision.
"There's a real opportunity here to, once and for all, resolve the decade-plus litigation. We feel the government is missing this, asking the region to walk down the same path that has led to multiple court decisions against the government's position."
A settlement process would involve all sides to work toward solutions, says Bill Arthur, a Sierra Club national field director. He says that means listening to the commercial and recreational fishermen, tribes, barge workers, farmers, and taxpayer advocacy groups, among others.
"Actually sit down doing the hard work, and taking a serious look at what's going to really be needed to recover the salmon and to deal responsibly with the communities and other affected parties."
The Bonneville Power Administration issued a news release stating that its approach to habitat projects is supported by independently developed scientific information which documents benefits to fish - and that it's focusing on all aspects of fish survival.
Although the current federal approach of habitat improvements has seen some success, Brownscombe says, more than tweaks are needed to meet court-ordered changes.
"An approach is needed that focuses on outcomes through a process that addresses not just habitat mitigation, but the other key issues and interests around this region related to operation of the Columbia dams and reservoirs."
U.S. District Judge James Redden has ordered parties in the lawsuit to collaborate on ways to improve the federal salmon plan, which was ruled "illegal." The judge is expected to issue a decision on the request for a settlement judge in the coming weeks.
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