A Judge has Stepped Up for
by Editorial Board
James Redden has been the most powerful and polarizing figure in the Northwest's salmon debate.
For more than a decade -- and through three presidential administrations -- the Portland-based federal judge has been the decider on salmon. And he has been a model of consistency, rejecting recovery plans from all three administrations.
His unflinching use of judicial power has earned him praise from salmon advocates and scorn from many regional politicians. And while the critics have painted Redden as a judicial activist who legislates from the bench, the criticism simply doesn't hold water. Instead, he has been a judicial purist in the strongest sense, holding the federal government to the exacting standards of the Endangered Species Act.
Idaho's wild salmon have by no means recovered. But this symbol of a state, this irreplaceable component of our ecosystem, is the better for Redden's efforts and adherence to law.
"By demanding that federal salmon managers follow sound science and the law, (Redden) has been a tremendous force in slowing the extinction of wild salmon in Idaho and the Northwest," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, a conservation group.
For Sedivy, and those on both sides of the salmon impasse, the dynamic changed considerably on Nov. 23, when the 82-year-old Redden said he will step aside from the salmon case. He plans to be gone by 2014, when the federal government is to file its next rewrite of the recovery plan -- a biological opinion, or "BiOp," in the jargon of salmon preservation.
Now, the game begins of trying to predict the "next Redden": U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon, who will assume the case. Simon, like Redden before him, has strong Democratic Party ties, reports The Associated Press. Yet the Coalition for Idaho Water -- a group focused on keeping Idaho's Lewiston seaport intact, and a critic of Redden -- gave Simon a strong initial review. "He appears to bring a strong measure of understanding both of the science involved and of the important issues of state water sovereignty," coalition chairman Travis Jones said on Statesman reporter Rocky Barker's Letters from the West blog.
But when the fate of Idaho salmon rests in the hands of one judge, much of the state's economic fortune falls into those same hands. Efforts to help "flush" young Idaho salmon downriver to the Pacific invariably place another demand on Idaho water supplies. Yet a recovered and fishable wild salmon population would help restore an outdoor recreation economy in small towns in the heart of Idaho's salmon country.
That is why the Statesman supports removing the lower Snake River dams in Washington state and replacing the shipping system tied to the dams and the port of Lewiston. We believe this is the best way to protect Idaho's fish, Idaho's water and Idaho's economy -- and have argued this since 1997, or six years before Redden's first landmark ruling rejecting a federal salmon plan.
But in 2011, this region is no closer to salmon consensus, the issue still embroiled in court. There is, from time to time, discussion of bringing together the many groups with a stake in salmon recovery. But there is more talk about talking than there is actual talking. A grand bargain on salmon remains an ideal and an abstraction.
We can and must do better. The feds' 2014 deadline is a long way off: There's ample time to at least begin the regional discussion that has been put off for too long.
Redden has been a polarizing personality because the Northwest has chosen to continue the polarizing politics of salmon. That isn't the judge's fault. That shortcoming belongs to a region and its leaders.
I struck the 2000 BiOp, and the 2004 BiOp, and the 2008/2011 BiOp by James A. Redden, Letter to Counsel, 11/22/11
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