A coalition of fishing businesses and conservation groups today hailed as an important step a sternly worded remand order from federal district court Judge James A. Redden
in a case involving management of Bureau of Reclamation water projects in the upper Snake River basin in Idaho.
In issuing an Order of Remand yesterday, following a May 23, 2006, ruling that the federal Biological Opinion and plan for the Bureau projects were illegal, the court wrote, this "is not the first time NOAA has failed to produce a valid biological opinion for Snake River salmon and steelhead. In fact, NOAA [Fisheries], BOR [Bureau of Reclamation], the Corps [of Engineers] and BPA [Bonneville Power Administration] have repeatedly and collectively failed to demonstrate a willingness to do what is necessary to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction in the Columbia and Snake River basins, whatever the cost."
Continuing, the court wrote, "Instead of looking for what can be done to protect the species from jeopardy, NOAA and the action agencies appear to be narrowly focusing their attention on what the establishment is capable of handling with minimal disruption."
In his ruling, the judge left it to the federal agencies to determine the specific steps they plan to take to ensure the kind of comprehensive analysis and effective plan required by the Endangered Species Act. The court did, however, specifically note that in the past, government scientists have concluded that salmon need much more water for flow augmentation with greater certainty than currently is provided for under the Snake River Basin Agreement.
"The judge's order should lead the federal agencies to do a complete, credible scientific analysis and evaluation of all restoration options," said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. "The court is saying all the cards are on the table, including Idaho water, and the government better get it right this time and do what the law requires. There is a clear path to salmon recovery that does not require redirecting water from Idaho farmland, and it is removing four high-cost, low-value dams on the lower Snake River. Today's instructions from the court, coupled with the fact that the benefits of those four dams can be affordably replaced, ought to spur our regional leaders and the federal government to take a fresh look at restoring a free-flowing lower Snake River."
The court also indicated it would keep a close eye on remand proceedings and if, at any time, it becomes apparent that the federal agencies are not compiling with the court's instructions, the court will not hesitate to step in: "The past … tells me that none of us -- especially the threatened and endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead -- can afford the dire consequences that will follow from another failure. Given those concerns and this court's broad latitude in fashioning equitable relief, I may well direct the federal agencies to consider certain steps during the remand if they are necessary to ensure the upper Snake River Biological Opinion complies with the ESA's substantive requirements."
"The court's order is pretty clear. It gives the government one last fair warning that if it doesn't do what the law requires and protect Snake River salmon, the court will have to step in and ensure compliance with the law in light of the agencies' recalcitrance and repeated failure," said Todd True of Earthjustice, attorney for the coalition of groups. "The federal agencies should heed the court's warning and stop trying to manipulate the law and the science in ways that harm our salmon and drain the resources of the Northwest and U.S. taxpayers."
"For more than twelve years and through five failed salmon plans, the federal agencies have done all they could to dodge and deny their responsibility to save Columbia and Snake River salmon," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a commercial fishing industry trade association. "With this order, the judge gave them a clear warning -- their days of dodge and denial are over."
"The government has only one more chance to get it right for Idaho's wild salmon and all of us who depend on them," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, a statewide river conservation organization based in Boise, ID. "The court has seen through this shell game and is serving notice to the federal agencies and other Northwest leaders. Now it's time for our Northwest leaders to step up and help craft a lasting solution that works for salmon and communities."
Read Judge Redden's order on the Biological Opinion