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Fish conservationists angle for dam breaching

By Jeff Barnard  AP 5/30/05

GRANTS PASS - A federal court ruling rejecting the Bush administration's latest effort to balance Columbia Basin salmon recovery against hydroelectric dams has fish conservationists pressing anew for breaching four dams on the lower Snake River.

``What the law requires is an honest analysis of how we configure the hydro system so we can get salmon back in our rivers,'' said Jan Hasselman, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. ``What all the scientists tell us is such an honest analysis would call for breaching the lower four Snake River dams.''

But with President Bush and the Republican-led Congress dead set against breaching the dams, the idea remains a long way from going anywhere.

``Breaching or removing our dams is not an option,'' U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., said in a statement. ``The river systems throughout the Northwest are a critical part of our region's economy and should be used for transportation, irrigation and recreation.''

And NOAA Fisheries, the agency responsible for restoring threatened and endangered salmon, is not ready to give up on its present course of aggressively working toward salmon recovery short of removing any dams, said Bob Lohn, northwest administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

``It does not lead us to the conclusion that it is necessary to remove dams,'' Lohn said of the ruling.

The judge has yet to offer orders on what NOAA Fisheries needs to do to fix the problems with the biological opinion, leaving the ruling incomplete, he added. As a result, NOAA Fisheries cannot decide yet whether to appeal the ruling.

U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland on Thursday roundly rejected NOAA Fisheries' latest biological opinion on the Columbia Basin federal hydroelectric system. The opinion is required under the Endangered Species to make sure that federal dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers do not drive threatened and endangered salmon closer toward extinction.

In particular, Redden rejected NOAA Fisheries' approach that the dams were part of the landscape, and removing them was not an option. That was a big change from the 2000 biological opinion, which said that if all else failed, NOAA Fisheries would ask Congress for permission and funding to start breaching dams on the lower Snake.

The latest biological opinion was the fourth from NOAA Fisheries since 1994, and all four have been found wanting by federal courts.

``It's our impression and our desire that dam breeching be put immediately back into consideration as a possible action for a broader recovery program,'' said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents tribes with treaty rights to salmon and was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. ``It appears to me that the judge has put the administration in a corner where he found inadequacies to their abilities and commitment to implement the aggressive non-breach plan.''

Dams are toughest on the millions of juvenile salmon swimming downstream to the ocean. They are chewed up by turbines, dashed on rocks going over the dams, and eaten by birds and other fish in slow-moving reservoirs.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski holds out hope that discussions to forge an agreement between Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana and the federal government over dam operations will soon bear fruit, offering a break from a decade of lawsuits.

Mike Carrier, natural resources adviser to Kulongoski, said the discussions are within days of reaching an agreement after holding weekly talks since January.

Kulongoski does not support dam breaching, and his decision to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of environmentalists, Indian tribes and fishermen was to give Oregon a role in crafting a solution outside the courtroom, Carrier said.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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