Cantwell: Judge has spoken on Columbia R. salmon

By:  Joel Connelly Seattle PI
Source: Seattle PI

Federal agencies should expect no fix from Congress, and get to work designing a long-term recovery plan for Columbia-Snake River salmon that will pass muster with an exacting federal judge in Portland,  Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Monday.

“I think the Endangered Species Act is something which is here:  They should come up with a good protection plan and be serious about it,” Cantwell said.

U.S. District Judge James Redden, for the third time, last week rejected federal agencies’ latest plan for recovery of the once-great salmon runs of the Northwest’s greatest river system.  He gave the feds until early 2014 to arrive at a new plan.

The judge said in his opinion that federal managers rely to heavily on habitat mitigation, make vague promises, and need to look at more aggressive measures that might include breaching dams, lowering reservoirs, or augmenting river flow.

In Cantwell’s view, Redden’s message was clear:  “Don’t be immediate.  His complaint was they were not doing their job in coming up with plans looking several years into the future.”

Dams have cut off hundreds of miles of salmon habitat. F passage facilities have come up short in getting young salmon downstream to the Pacific Ocean.  The Snake and Salmon Rivers in Idaho boast hundreds of miles of salmon habitat, but fish must pass through eight dams going and coming.

Redden has ordered that federal dams in the Columbia-Snake system continue a “fish flush” — spilling water during the spring to speed young salmon on their migration to the ocean.  The Bonneville Power Administration, in past years, has campaigned against the spill on grounds it subtracts from power sales to the Southwest.

The Obama administration’s most recent plan bore a resemblance to Bush administration plans previously rejected by Judge Redden.

The state of Oregon, commercial and sport fisheries interests, the Nez Perce and Spokane Indians, and environmental groups led by Save Our Wild Salmon challenged the feds’ plans in court.