River Watch Header Image

Pacific Northwest Salmon Issue in Federal Court

November 23, 2009

Salmon and fishing advocates squared off with the Obama Administration in front of United States District Judge James Redden in Portland OR on Monday. This is the latest court action in our nearly 20-year battle to protect wild salmon and steelhead from extinction and restore them to healthy, self-sustaining populations.

As a reminder to the Administration of just how important healthy populations of salmon and steelhead are to the economy and culture of the Pacific Northwest and the nation, several dozen commercial and recreational fishermen arrived on the steps of the courthouse, many with their boats in tow – covered in banners such as ‘Free the Science’ and ‘President Obama: One fisherman to another – please bring real change to the Columbia-Snake!’

The day-long hearing focused on the Bush-turned-Obama Salmon Plan that was finalized and made public on Sept. 15. As you may recall, the Obama Administration took the 2008 Bush Plan that it inherited at the start of this year, added a document affectionately called the ‘AMIP’ (the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan), and handed it over to the judge for, they hoped, his approval.

AMIP? The AMIP is of little value to our endangered salmon today. AMIP contains a number of rather undefined and largely in-the-distant-future studies and potential plans to make plans (really!) that will be triggered forconsideration if and when our already-endangered salmon and steelhead populations take further sustained and precipitous declines toward extinction. As for consideration of lower Snake River dam removal? The AMIP indicates that this option might possibly be studied sometime in the distant and still undefined future…maybe.

At the hearing, the judge made a number of observations about the ‘Obama Salmon Plan’ (‘Bush Plan plus AMIP’). He indicated that while some progress has been made, there are still some very important procedural and substantive issues that must be addressed. The federal government and its allies, however, made clear in the hearing that they were not considering making any additional improvements to the plan, for instance, increasing ‘spills’ or ‘flows’ to run the dams and reservoirs more like a natural river when salmon need it most. (Increased spill and flow greatly improve salmon survival as they migrate to the ocean as juvenile salmon.)

How About Sitting Down to Talk? Salmon and fishing advocates, and our allies (the State of Oregon, and Spokane and Nez Perce tribes) repeated our collective interest in convening a settlement table with the Obama Administration and its allies in an effort to explore additional options including lower Snake River dam removal, and discuss opportunities to resolve this critical and long-running issue in a collaborative fashion.

The judge also expressed his interest in resolving this court case through a settlement process. Obama Administration’s insistence, however, to stick to its current (flawed) plan and its opposition to participating in substantive settlement discussions in order to develop a legal, science-based salmon plan that works for both salmon and people is a major disappointment to salmon and fishing advocates.

For more information on the hearing, take a look at:

(1) Save Our Wild Salmon Blog.

(2) Idaho River United’s Blog.

(3) Oregon Fly Fishing Blog on Courtroom Action!