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NW Salmon Battle Doesn't Bode Well for Other Endangered Species

May 21, 2010

SEATTLE - It is Endangered Species Day and advocates for native Northwest salmon say the timing is ironic. On Thursday, the federal government submitted what it calls a "legally and scientifically sound" Biological Opinion (BiOp); a plan to protect endangered wild fish. Groups that have already challenged the previous BiOps in court say this one is not much better. In their view, the feds have ignored some studies in favor of others, and failed to take climate change into account.

Jim Martin, former chief of fisheries for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department, says he's disappointed in the new plan.

"I see this BiOp as largely trying to protect cheap power rates and keep the status quo in place. I think Judge Redden will see it the same way, and I think Judge Redden will end up ordering strengthening to this BiOp that is desperately needed."

The NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that wrote the BiOp, will submit it to Judge James Redden in federal court in Portland, along with all the documentation they used to create it. It is up to Redden to rule on whether the plan does enough to improve native salmon numbers.

Brock Evans, president of the Endangered Species Coalition, says his group is concerned, not only about salmon, but other threatened species, if the salmon BiOp is an indication of how the feds will handle controversy.

"When the new administration came in, it said, 'We're gonna do real science this time and we're gonna prevent extinction,' and it's not coming out that way. It's more of the same, 'Oh, we're gonna work with this group,' or 'We're gonna study that.' At best, it's just sort-of marking time and not doing much at all."

NOAA says there have been only "modest changes" in the science, and that those are reflected in the new plan. It also says more than 9,600 miles of wetlands habitat have been protected in the past year, and that more are expected. Critics of the plan say that's important, but the fish are still having a tough time migrating through the system of dams.

The BiOp is is available at www.salmonrecovery.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA