*NEWS*LATEST CHAMPIONS FOR N.W. SALMON

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*NEWS*LATEST CHAMPIONS FOR N.W. SALMON

 user 2005-10-26 at 12:26:00 pm Views: 88
  • #14362

    Latest champions for Northwest’s salmon
    In separate actions, a federal judge and a US appeals court say the government’s plans to save the fish are inadequate.
    ASHLAND,
    ORE. – Uncle Sam is getting hammered in federal courts for failing to
    protect endangered salmon, the totemic icon of the Pacific Northwest.
    The
    US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday rejected the Bush
    administration’s water diversion plan for the Klamath River in
    California and Oregon because it does not protect the river’s coho
    salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.    
    Just
    a few days earlier, a federal judge in Portland, Ore., said he has had
    it with failed attempts to recover wild salmon (not to be confused with
    the hatchery fish) headed toward extinction in the vast Columbia River
    Basin, an area the size of central Europe.
    After what have been
    years of trying and failing, and more than $1 billion spent on recovery
    efforts, US District Judge James Redden gave federal agencies one year
    - not the two years they had asked for – to come up with a plan that
    actually works. And he raised the specter of tearing out mammoth
    hydroelectric dams in the Columbia-Snake River system – which could
    dramatically alter key parts of the region’s economy, particularly the
    agriculture and shipping industries – if they don’t succeed.
    “The
    government’s inaction appears to some parties to be a strategy intended
    to avoid making hard choices and offending those who favor the status
    quo,” Judge Redden wrote. “We are all aware of the demands of other
    users of the resources of the Columbia River and Snake River, but we
    need to be far more aware of the needs of the endangered and threatened
    species.”
    If the hydropower dams were to be breached, much less
    electricity would be produced, which may raise the price of power and
    make it more expensive for wide segments of the economy in the West.
    It’s
    an extremely complicated environmental, economic, and legal issue – far
    more so than the case of the infamous northern spotted owl, whose
    court-ordered protections hastened the demise of many small timber
    towns around the Northwest through the 1990s.
    Salmon need the right
    amount of water and the proper temperature to spawn far upstream, and
    then they head out to the Pacific Ocean for several years before
    returning to the place of their birth to repeat the cycle. Dams,
    diversions for irrigation, logging, mining, and urban development all
    have made the river trips to and from the ocean increasingly difficult.
    Before
    eight major dams were built on the Columbia River and the Snake River
    (the Columbia’s main tributary), some 16 million salmon a year filled
    annual fish runs. Today, that number is down to about 1 million fish,
    and 12 species of salmon now are listed under the Endangered Species
    Act.
    The same is true for the Klamath River. It once saw one of the
    largest salmon runs. But the number of fish there has declined to the
    point where extinction is a possibility, largely because of dams and
    water diversions for agriculture.
    In both places, government
    agencies, Indian tribes, environmental groups, university scientists,
    and economic interests have been battling it out for more than a decade.
    Meanwhile,
    other important variables may be at work over the long term that could
    have significant impact on salmon runs. According to a recent report by
    University of Washington researchers in Seattle, climate change has
    been occurring in the Puget Sound region at a relatively rapid rate. It
    could make it more difficult for salmon because the temperature of
    river water is critical to their survival.
    The essence of the
    federal appeals court ruling this week – the latest in a series of
    legal decisions on Pacific salmon that go back more than 30 years – is
    that the US Bureau of Reclamation’s 10-year plan for restoring the
    Klamath salmon run is “arbitrary and capricious,” failing to provide
    enough water for the fish until the last two years. By that time, the
    court declared, it well may be that “all the water in the world …
    will not protect the coho [salmon], for there will be none to protect.”
    The
    problem, says Steve Pedry of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, is
    “too much water has been promised to too many different interests.”
    Farmers
    and ranchers dependent on irrigation in the Klamath basin have 45 days
    to seek another court hearing to make their case, and federal agencies
    are likely to appeal as well.
    “We think the court really got it
    wrong,” says Robin Rivett, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation
    who represents irrigators along the Oregon-California border.
    The
    Bush administration has pledged some $6 billion over the next decade on
    salmon recovery in the Columbia Basin. But it also wants to include
    hatchery fish with wild salmon for purposes of counting fish under the
    Endangered Species Act, which biologists argue against because it would
    lead to further salmon declines.
    It has reduced the amount of
    officially designated “critical habitat” – the thousands of square
    miles of streams that flow into the Snake and Columbia Rivers – for
    salmon up and down the West Coast. The president has said he’d never
    approve breaching or removing any of the eight main hydropower dams on
    the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
    Will these critical court cases and
    impatient judges finally do the trick in turning around the precipitous
    decline of wild salmon? It’s likely to take many more years to find out.