Groups say nothing new in Columbia salmon plan

By Jeff Barnard
AP Environmental Writer 10-09

Groups suing to make Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams safer for salmon say there is nothing new or real about the Obama administration’s revised plans for saving threatened and endangered salmon.

Formal responses from the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, conservation groups and salmon fishermen were filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore.

They argue that the NOAA Fisheries Service plan, known as a biological opinion, filed during September lowers triggers that would prompt stronger conservation measures to population levels at the brink of extinction, and does not improve on short term measures proven to help salmon, such as increasing the amount of water spilled over dams when young fish are migrating downstream.

“If you are not going to do anything different until you see population crashes of that magnitude, you are running a huge risk,” said Steve Mashuda, an attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm representing some of the plaintiffs. “You run the risk of sounding an alarm bell and five years later the fire department shows up.”


U.S. District Judge James Redden called for the responses as he decides whether the plan covering dam operations, habitat improvements, hatchery operations and predator control meets Endangered Species Act requirements to restore threatened and endangered salmon to healthy populations.

The plan submitted by NOAA Fisheries during September increased monitoring and research, set new trigger levels, and restored consideration of removing four dams on the Snake River in Eastern Washington as a last resort.

Redden has twice ruled earlier plans violated the Endangered Species Act, and has threatened to take over management of the dams if the new one does the same.

Attorneys for the state of Oregon wrote that they had hoped to see a plan that placed the burden of success on the source of harm to salmon, the dams themselves.

“But instead, after tinkering with its position for close to five months, the new Administration responds by steadfastly clinging to Bush-era policies, and once again choosing ongoing hydrosystem operations over the protection of threatened and endangered fish.”

Attorneys for the Nez Perce Tribe characterized the proposal to consider breaching dams if all else fails as cynical.

“Federal Defendants have created a contingency that can never be evaluated on a purely biological basis, that will remain politically paralyzed, and that will never be deployable in time to be of value to any species,” they wrote.