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Commentaries and editorials

Truth Wins

by Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, April 12, 2007

A court sees through the fantasyland world of the Bush administration

You can't fool Mother Nature and federal judges apparently aren't particularly naive either. The Bush administration's fantasy version of Columbia salmon recovery was rejected with resounding disdain by a court this week.

In the stilted double-talk of the bureaucracy, federal agencies are required to prepare a biological opinion detailing how dams and other manmade contrivances are harming endangered species, and what is to be done about it. James Redden, a blunt-spoken U.S. District Court judge, concluded the 2004 biological opinion was an intellectually dishonest effort to subvert the plain language of the Endangered Species Act. Monday, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously said Redden was right on all counts.

In a move that must have mortified its long-suffering professional scientists, NOAA Fisheries tried with the 2004 biological opinion to rewrite reality with a brazenness that is almost operatic. The Appeals Court made note of the biological opinion's statistical illusions that, for example, concluded "dead fish were really alive." Dams were to be granted the same deference as the Grand Tetons and be considered immutable parts of the landscape forever.

Although not nearly so darkly comedic as these Bush administration efforts to subvert Pacific Northwest salmon recovery efforts, Clinton-era biological opinions also failed to live up to our region's profound social and economic interest in the permanent viability of salmon and steelhead.

The failure to write and execute effective biological opinions is a symptom of a major underlying disease, the lack of competent and overarching leadership. Former Gov. John Kitzhaber, though not as good at carrying out plans as he was at conceiving them, was absolutely correct in his assertion of the need for a single, fully empowered governing body for Columbia-Snake watershed issues.

As it is, with responsibility split between numerous federal, state and tribal agencies, any plan for salmon recovery inevitably is subject to hidden, crippling compromises. Discussions like what to do about the last ill-advised dams placed on the Snake River result in watered-down salmon recovery goals designed to placate upriver industries. Billions are spent on salmon migration strategies that might have been dreamed up by Wile E. Coyote and purchased from the Acme Corporation.

No court or judge should have to become as involved in these questions as Redden has because of the abdication of our elected leaders. These are issues that should be openly and logically debated. It's absurd to be in 2007 and still be figuring out how to get baby salmon around enormous concrete barriers in their path. West Coast courts are losing patience and so are we.

Editorial Board
Truth Wins
The Daily Astorian, April 12, 2007

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