Today, the State of Oregon and fishing and conservation groups asked a federal court to institute 2009 in-river protections for salmon in the Columbia-Snake River Basin. The request will not be considered until early next year, when U.S. District Court Judge James Redden is expected to rule on the groups' underlying claims against the Bush administration's 2008 salmon plan. But today's filing is the first step toward ensuring better river conditions for salmon and job security for fishermen.
"We are filing this injunction to protect and create salmon jobs. The failure of the Bush administration and the Northwest delegation to lawfully and scientifically tackle salmon recovery in the Snake and Columbia River has left us looking to the courts to protect our fish and our jobs in the short term," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the plaintiff groups. "With a new administration and a new Congress, we now have a tremendous opportunity to recover salmon the right way. Salmon are the lifeblood of our coastal economy. If we don't work to save them, we will see economic devastation in the Northwest like never before."
The injunction request asks for more water to be spilled over the dams and increased river flow through the Columbia-Snake River dams to help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. Science shows that the quicker young salmon make it through the heavily-dammed river, the higher their survival rate. But the Bush administration's salmon plan (also called a biological opinion, or "BiOp") released earlier this year rolls back -- and even eliminates -- the protections that resulted in this year's higher returns.
"We need the court to make sure we keep salmon on life support until we can get them to the recovery room. The only reason we saw improved salmon returns this year is because in 2006 fishers and conservationists fought tooth and nail in court to secure protections for these fish," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "But the Bush administration has already stripped away these protections, calling for lower flows and less spill. We're fighting to make sure that this year's returns will not only be a memory."
According to the Fish Passage Center, an independent science and data analysis agency that monitors Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, this year's improved returns are likely the result of more water left in the river and the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when these fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon. Those in-river improvements were ordered by Judge Redden after conservationists and fishermen fought to have them instituted -- over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are hailing the so-called "Redden-effect" as an important tool for keeping and creating sustainable jobs in the region.
"It's important to understand that what is being proposed in this preliminary injunction is not a real, long-term solution to the economic crisis in the Northwest. It's just a stop-gap measure that we must rely on because the Bush administration has left us no other choice," said Harvey Morrison, Spokane contractor and steelhead fisherman. "We need our Northwest lawmakers to show leadership and bring people together so that we can find solutions that will secure fishing jobs as well as important transportation needs for farmers in eastern Washington."
Last June, the State of Oregon along with fishing and conservation groups filed litigation against the Bush administration for violating the Endangered Species Act. Three prior federal plans were all ruled illegal by the courts, including the latest plan from the Bush administration filed in 2004. On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral arguments on the merits of the case. The injunction filed today is unlikely to be addressed until after the court rules on the merits. Any ruling on the injunction would be made sometime after mid-February 2009.
Todd True, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 30
Natalie Brandon, Save Our Wild Salmon, (206) 286-4455, ext. 102
Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, (541) 689-2000
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