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Salmon Recovery: Working in Unison

by Editorial Board
Seattle Times, April 9, 2008

Four tribes and three federal agencies use the word historic to describe their 10-year, $900 million agreement on how to proceed with Columbia River salmon restoration.

A federal judge in Oregon will ultimately decide if the pact is one for the ages, but the prospects for constructive partnerships are huge.Five years ago, U.S. District Judge James Redden knocked down the federal government's recovery plans for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead because they lacked the lawful and reasonable certainty of reliable follow-through.

Those words and memories were in the air Monday, as the Umatilla, Warms Springs, Yakama and Colville tribes and the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation emphasized a new spirit of collaboration.

The heart of the settlement, which the parties describe as broad, deep and complex, is a combination of financial commitments and performance standards for salmon restoration. Enough federal money, bureaucratic focus and working relationships to make things happen. That is what Redden has been looking for and found lacking.

In turn, the two Washington tribes and the two Oregon tribes will back way from lawsuits in exchange for better access and consultation with policymakers and a substantial infusion of cash for new and existing salmon projects, including hatcheries.

The tribes, effective and successful in court, leave other plaintiffs, especially environmental groups, to fend for themselves. Also, for the life of the agreement, the tribes will not push for removal of four Lower Snake River dams — more slippage for an idea struggling for traction.

BPA has put the agreement out for public comment until April 23. A basic question is where the money comes from, and the short answer is ratepayers.

Salmon, already expensive, are on the list of perennial BPA budget fights. First among them is residential exchange, the annual subsidy to reduce electricity rates for residential and small-farm customers of the privately owned utilities.

The bill for salmon recovery was never destined to go down. The saving grace of this agreement is the prospect of more-definable, effective use of the money. Cooperation among key players on and near the Columbia is cheaper than endless courtroom battles.

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Editorial Board
Salmon Recovery: Working in Unison
Seattle Times, April 9, 2008

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