The letter includes the Court's preliminary conclusion that the current plan for operating the dams -- called a biological opinion -- is illegal as well as the recommendation that the government consider notching four small dams on the lower Snake River if other remedies fail to do the job. These four dams are proven salmon killers.
The judge made the recommendations noting, "Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water, and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act… We simply cannot afford to waste another decade."
"Today's guidance from Judge Redden gives us all renewed hope that salmon can be recovered, our fishing jobs can be saved and inland agricultural economies can thrive if we invest in solutions across the entire Snake and Columbia River Basin," said Bob Rees, president of Northwest Guides and Anglers Association. "We welcome the administration's review and believe that removing the four lower Snake River dams is the most cost-effective and scientifically viable solution that works for the entire region. As the judge commented in his letter, it is time we put that option squarely on the table and develop a legal plan that recovers Columbia and Snake River salmon."
The letter urges the federal government to develop a contingency plan to study "specific, alternative hydro actions, such as flow augmentation and/or reservoir drawdowns, as well as what it will take to breach the lower Snake River dams if all other measures fail." Judge Redden also said, "All of us know that aggressive action is necessary to save this vital resource, and now is the time to make that happen."
Earthjustice attorney Todd True said, "Today's action by Judge Redden is a significant step forward for the entire West Coast. The Bush administration's salmon policy was legally and scientifically bankrupt from the beginning. We cannot afford to stay the course on a path toward salmon extinction."
Among those hardest hit by the Columbia-Snake salmon crisis are commercial and sport fishermen. Repeated fishery closures and cutbacks in recent years have harmed river and coastal family businesses and livelihoods. Fishing groups have been at the forefront of this legal battle for decades. Spring chinook returns are down again this year.
"After four spectacular failures by prior administrations, the Obama administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service now have a perfect opportunity to deliver an effective salmon plan," said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the plaintiff groups in the case. "Instead of pouring more money down this rat hole, it's finally time for a regional solution, but we will need national leadership from the Obama administration to get the job done. Removing the four fish-killing dams on the lower Snake River has got to be done, but it can be done in such a way to leave the Northwest both economically stronger and greener."
"The Obama administration says it respects science and will do things differently, so we have a new opportunity to bring our salmon back," said Tom Stuart, retired Idaho businessman and former president of Idaho Rivers United. "With leadership from the Obama administration we can achieve both salmon restoration and economic recovery."
The Obama administration is perfectly poised to recover endangered Columbia-Snake salmon and jumpstart a clean energy future for the Northwest. A new report from the NW Energy Coalition, Bright Future, shows that the region can replace the power currently generated by the four salmon-killing dams on the lower Snake River and meet our future energy needs over the coming decades by relying on a combination of conservation, energy-efficiency standards and increased renewable energy production, including wind and solar.
"A comprehensive solution will involve providing the water needed for wild salmon restoration and satisfying all new power needs from our abundant stores of affordable energy efficiency and carbon-free renewable resources," said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. "The good news is that our new report, Bright Future, proves this goal is completely achievable."
Climate change is threatening some salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Most scientists agree that undeveloped wilderness lands in central Idaho hold out some of the best hope for long range salmon survival. But the four salmon killing dams on the lower Snake River largely block access to this habitat.