Good Intentions Don't Save Salmonby Editors
Seattle Times, May 18, 2003
A federal judge in Oregon has knocked Columbia River salmon-restoration plans for a marvelous loop.
U.S. District Judge James Redden said the federal government's elaborate strategy for saving threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead lacks the lawful and reasonable certainty of reliable follow-through.
The judge wants assurances hatchery, harvest, habitat and hydroelectric reforms will happen. He is right; good intentions do not count.
Redden does not downplay the difficulty of the task, or denigrate the plan. The judge wants evidence it can be achieved on timelines that save endangered fish.
He told Columbia hydro-system operators their official blueprint for action fails to hold the government's own agencies accountable for the harm they cause, or their promises to mitigate damage.
Second, Redden said the biological opinion relies on states, tribes and private parties without tangible financial and legal commitments to make their pledges credible.
His ruling earlier this month rekindled the hopes in some and fanned the fears among others of removing four dams on the Snake River. Such thoughts are far too premature.
Environmental groups want the river returned to natural levels by breaching earthen berms next to the dams. For others, lowering the water threatens irrigation, barge traffic and the small, seasonally significant power the dams generate.
Dam removal is so politically improbable, this editorial page continues to believe the time, money and energy is better spent in improving salmon habitat, hatchery operations, harvest management and hydro operations, especially on the main stem of the Columbia.
The judge's decision does nothing to undermine a belief in the value of those efforts. His public service is an insistence that work move toward credible outcomes.
The best protection for Snake dams so highly valued by Eastern Washington is a unified effort to ensure watershed restoration and other building blocks of salmon revival are accomplished across the Columbia basin.
Lawyers were back in Redden's court Friday looking for time tables to satisfy the judge's decision. A big hurdle is establishing what environmental framework will guide the power system while the remedial work is done.
Judge Redden brought the government up short with a simple request: Prove to me this plan can be carried out.
The question has not been asked often enough.
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