On May 18, 2009, in a letter issued by U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, the Court indicated that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service has failed yet again to produce a legal and scientifically adequate plan to protect endangered Columbia-Snake River salmon from harm caused by the operation of eight federal dams on the rivers. In his letter, Judge Redden said: “Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water, and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act… We simply cannot afford to waste another decade.”
“Today’s guidance from Judge Redden gives us all renewed hope that salmon can be recovered, our fishing jobs can be saved and inland agricultural economies can thrive if we examine and invest in solutions across the entire Snake and Columbia River Basin,” said Bob Rees, president of Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. “We welcome the administration’s review and believe that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the most cost-effective and scientifically viable solution that works for the entire region. As the judge commented in his letter, it is time we put that option squarely on the table and develop a legal plan that recovers Columbia and Snake River salmon.”
In the letter, Judge Redden said: “All of us know that aggressive action is necessary to save this vital resource, and now is the time to make that happen.” The letter urges federal defendants to develop a contingency plan to study “specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns, as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail.”
Earthjustice attorney Todd True added: “Today’s action by Judge Redden is a significant step forward for the entire West Coast, but it is not surprising. The Bush administration’s salmon policy was legally and scientifically bankrupt from the beginning. There is no reason to pretend, as they have in this latest illegal BiOp, that a failed status quo is our only option. We cannot afford to stay the course on a path toward salmon extinction.”
Among those hardest hit by the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis are commercial and sport fishermen. Repeated fishery closures and cutbacks in recent years have harmed river and coastal family businesses and livelihoods. Fishing groups have been at the forefront of this legal battle for decades. Spring chinook returns are down again this year and fishermen.
“After four spectacular failures by prior administrations, the Obama administration and NOAA Fisheries now have a perfect opportunity to deliver an effective salmon plan,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, one of the Plaintiff groups in the case. “Instead of pouring more money down this rat hole, it’s finally time for a regional solution, but we will need national leadership from the Obama administration to get the job done. Removing the four fish-killing dams on the lower Snake River has got to be done, but it can be done in such a way to leave the Northwest both economically stronger and greener.”
In the letter, Judge Redden said: “I still have serious reservations about whether the ‘trending toward recovery’ standard complies with the Endangered Species Act, its implementing regulations, and the case law.” He also added that the federal agencies’ conclusion that plan would avoid jeopardy is likely arbitrary and capricious.
“The Obama administration says it respects science and will do things differently, so we have a new opportunity to bring our salmon back,” said Tom Stuart, retired Idaho businessman and former president of Idaho Rivers United. “With leadership from the Obama administration we can achieve both salmon restoration and economic recovery.”
Groups believe the Obama administration is perfectly poised to recover endangered Columbia-Snake salmon and jumpstart a clean energy future for the Northwest. A new report from the NW Energy Coalition, Bright Future, shows that the region can replace the power currently generated by the four salmon-killing dams on the lower Snake River and meet our future energy needs over the coming decades by relying on a combination of conservation, energy-efficiency standards and increased renewable energy production, including wind and solar.
“A comprehensive solution will involve providing the water needed for wild salmon restoration and satisfying all new power needs from our abundant stores of affordable energy efficiency and carbon-free renewable resources,” said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. “The good news is that our new report, Bright Future, examines the region’s future energy needs and proves this goal to be completely achievable. We now have an opportunity to start building a bright future not just for salmon, but for our world, our economy and our families.”
If you haven't done so already, please contact President Obama today!
Urge the Obama Administration to bring together stakeholders to solve this problem in a manner that creates new jobs, invests in our fishing and farming communities, and promotes a clean energy economy that our region and nation needs.