- from the desk of Nicole Cordan, Policy & Legal Director, SOS
This spring, a federal court is poised to make a decision that could change the fate of endangered species across the entire country.
Conservation, fishing groups, the State of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe marched back to court yesterday for a hearing on the Columbia-Snake salmon plan. The plan is meant to mitigate the harmful impacts of dams on endangered salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia-Snake River Basin, but it has yet to do the job.
Over the next several weeks, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden will decide if the Obama administration’s federal salmon plan passes legal muster — a decision that will do one of two things for endangered wildlife: protect the Endangered Species Act (ESA), or weaken it.
The Greatest Migration Teaser from EP Films on Vimeo.
This court case is about much more than a fish. This case is about how we, as a country, decide to chart a path to our future — and whether we decide to save wild salmon, grizzlies and other iconic American wildlife, or let them slip to extinction.
From OPB’s Ecotrope, Judge James Redden said:
“Everyone agrees habitat improvement is needed, but scientific support for actual benefits from habitat improvement is challenging and perhaps questionable.”
The biological opinion on the hydropower system “leaves no room for error,” he said. Yet there are “gaps” in the government’s goals and achievements for salmon survival and recovery. “For some species, only a quarter of the expected survival benefits have occurred.”
Is the “unproven” habitat mitigation plan for the dams based on “independent, reliable and verifiable scientific information”?
“That’s what we hope to learn today,” Redden said.
Judge Redden has instituted more protections for endangered salmon and steelhead on the Columbia-Snake Rivers than the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations combined.
Snake River salmon swim farther and climb higher than any other salmon on earth. Their migration is legendary, awe-inspiring and at times unbelievable.
In the Pacific Northwest, the science is clear: removing the four lower Snake River dams is the most effective, if not only, path to restore healthy, abundant salmon and steelhead populations. But even outside of the region, this decision would have a major ripple effect. It would be the largest river restoration in our nation’s history and a motivator for the rest of the country to “win the future” by building a bright future not just for salmon in the Northwest, but for other endangered wildlife and communities across the US. The Obama administration has yet to consider this option despite strong urging from fisheries biologists, former Northwest governors, and people and businesses across the nation.
Judge Redden took the bench this morning and said: “The job is not done.” And we couldn’t agree more.
But as we wait to hear what the judge has to say, we know this is not just up to the court and our fight doesn’t stop today. This is up to the American people. We have the opportunity to save these one-of-a-kind fish. I don't want to tell future generations that we had the opportunity to save wild salmon and we did nothing. I want to tell them that we fought to save them. That we fought to save the jobs and the communities that depend upon them. That we fought to ensure transparency in our federal decisions.