Court-ordered spill over dams boosts returns, but federal agencies fail to act on legal directives
Portland, Ore. – One year ago today, U.S. District Judge James Redden ruled the federal plan to restore endangered Columbia-Snake salmon illegal. Citing the plan as “arbitrary and capricious,” it was the fourth federal plan, and the third in a row, that the court has ruled illegal.
While we have seen some successes for salmon in the last year as a result of court-ordered spill, federal agencies appear to have made little to no progress on the major directives in Judge Redden’s year-old ruling. In his August 2011 decision, Judge Redden asked for a stronger scientific basis for the plan’s weak jeopardy standard, additional attention to spill and flow, and an analysis of lower Snake River dam removal.
Said Todd True, Earthjustice attorney for the plaintiffs, "A few runs of salmon are doing somewhat better thanks to the court's insistence that the federal agencies continue to spill water over the dams in the Spring and Summer to help flush baby salmon out to sea, but sadly we haven't seen any indication that the federal agencies are taking serious steps to build a salmon plan that addresses the Court's core concern about dam operations and their harmful effects on salmon survival."
Said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, “Okanogan sockeye salmon numbers are high as a direct result of spill and favorable ocean conditions, but Snake River sockeye numbers are lower than in recent years. While spill is helping salmon and thus fishing jobs, we still need to see more progress. The feds are just doing too little to address this issue.”
NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton expressed her disappointment in the lack of federal progress since Redden’s last decision. “With so much at stake for so many people and interests – commercial and recreational fishers, power producers and consumers, river transporters, river- and fishing-dependent communities -- we clearly need a new process to address everyone’s concerns,” said Patton.
The lack of progress in the last year provides even further reason for a solutions-oriented stakeholder process for the Columbia-Snake Rivers. Though it would take work and time, such a process could achieve a lawful, science-based, and broadly supported salmon plan that also aids the Northwest’s clean energy and transportation goals. Judge Redden gave federal agencies until December 2013 to submit a new salmon plan.