Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Legal Update: Salmon and Northwest communities in court

PORTLAND, Ore. — Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden affirmed his commitment to follow the rule of law in his decision on the adequacy of the 2008 federal salmon plan produced in the final months of the Bush Administration. The ruling will affect, among other things, dam operations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. While the judge did not specify a date, his ruling is expected as early as April.

Regardless of the specific outcome, this critical court decision is sure to change the dynamic of one of the most important endangered species challenges of our time. The fate of Columbia Basin salmon, Northwest communities, and crucial US taxpayer dollars hang in the balance. Now, more than ever, Northwest and national leaders must take the opportunity to help craft solutions that can end the salmon crisis in a way that promotes and addresses the key priorities our nation is facing: creating jobs, fighting climate change, ending taxpayer waste, and building a clean energy future.

President Obama has vowed to restore scientific integrity to our decision-making. With his leadership we now have an opportunity to solve this longstanding issue. Please call on President Obama and tell him he has folks across the country that want him to give us a Columbia-Snake River that works for people and salmon! .

Here in Oregon, Senator Jeff Merkley was elected to represent Oregon on a platform that included a commitment to leadership on natural resource issues in the Northwest. He has also addressed a signature Northwest issue - the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake Rivers - agreeing that all options, including the removal the four lower Snake River dams, must be on the table. While we wait for Judge Redden's ruling, Senator Merkley needs to hear from you:

Please join with others throughout Oregon by taking a moment to call
Senator Jeff Merkley's office today - 202.224.3753

You can also send him a letter via email.

Key points when you call his office:
- Welcome him to the Senate and thank him for his commitment to leadership on Northwest salmon recovery.
- Urge him to champion legislation in the United States Senate to restore healthy, abundant populations of salmon and steelhead by removing the four costly dams on the lower Snake River and replacing their river transportation and energy production with modern, efficient and salmon-friendly alternatives.
- Removing these dams will save taxpayer dollars, create family-wage jobs and ensure a clean energy future, as it restores access for salmon and steelhead to the wildest, largest, and best-protected salmon habitat in the continental United States.

For more context on the unfolding case in court, please read the recent blog (posted below) from the Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker or visit:

Thank you for all of your help!


In salmon and dams saga, the hard part begins
by Rocky Barker

March 9th, 2009

Neither side in the salmon-dam lawsuit could walk away Friday confident that they were going to eventually get their way from U.S. District Judge James Redden Friday in Portland.

Redden told federal, tribal and environmental lawyers that it's a close call whether the latest federal biological opinion on Columbia and Snake River dams meets the Endangered Species Act. And he said at the end of the day if he makes a final ruling he will make it on the law.

Lawyers for environmentalists, salmon fishermen and salmon businesses, along with lawyers for the Nez Perce Tribe and the Spokane tribe made a strong case that the federal government was not using the best available science to determine how endangered all 13 stocks of salmon and steelhead in the region are. But the federal government had most of the region's tribes on its side of the court in a powerful coalition that make its case it will do what it says it will.

The key issue is whether the dams jeopardize the existence of the fish with the plan in place that feds, Idaho, Montana, Washington and most of the region's tribes support. The judge clearly would like the two sides to cut a deal. But that isn't going to be easy.

If the issue was getting to a plan that meets the Endangered Species Act that would be tough enough. But what salmon advocates want is a plan that will not only keep salmon from going extinct but also will unlock the production potential of the Snake River.

Only Idaho and eastern Oregon have the quality habitat to produce large harvestable runs into the future without hatcheries. That's as much of the logic of removing the four lower Snake dams on the Snake in Washington as keeping the fish from going extinct. The long term future of all five of the Snake salmon and steelhead that are endangered may depend on the dams but in the short term it may be possible to keep them from winking out.

Other issues remain important. The future wild B run steelhead, the big ones that live mostly in the Clearwater, may be more threatened right now by incidental harvest by tribal commercial fishermen. Other dams like the Hells Canyon complex are issues.

Hatcheries have been the major bane of the Upper Columbia steelhead. These fish have all but lost the resilience to survive in the wild because of spending too many generations in hatcheries.

What role will hatcheries play in the long run? Then there is the biggest issue: climate change.

Ultimately the Pacific Northwest is going to have to decide what it wants and get Congress and a president to sign off. Redden has set the table for these regional discussions to begin.

The ball is now in the court of the Obama administration, which appeared all but absent from the hearing Friday. The same government lawyers argued the federal side. The National Marine Fisheries Service still doesn't have its new director, Jane Lubchenco, in place let along a regional director.

But the ball also is in the court of the Congress and the region. What will be the forum for the long term talks that will be necessary to resolve this issue? How will the interests of the many local communities affected be protected?

We are on the verge of a new era in the salmon and dam saga. The first thing we need is leadership.

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