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Judge Ousts Feds' Third Plan to Save Salmon

August 3, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - The third time was not a charm for federal agencies' latest plan to protect endangered salmon species in the Northwest.

Late Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Redden described their third plan in 10 years, called a Biological Opinion, as "not cautious or rational," and has given the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service a new deadline to revise it.

This time, Redden said the plan's reliance on improving salmon habitat won't counteract the damage by dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The opinion was strongly worded, says Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director for the group Save Our Wild Salmon.

"Basically, he goes through every one of their arguments and says, 'No. You're behind. You're not getting the improvement that you said you would get. You may never get it. You don't even have things in place for after 2013. You can't tell me what those things are.'"

The plan offered habitat improvements for fish, some methods to increase survival at dams and increased monitoring of environmental conditions.

The judge said the current plan can remain in place while federal agencies, led by NOAA Fisheries, work on another one. He outlined some other conditions as well, says Todd True of Earthjustice, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

"He has told them that, in the meantime, they have to do everything they promised to do under the current plan - plus continue to provide the spill, the water that carries the little fish over the dams, that he has required them to do for the last several years."

Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, says his industry has been harmed by years of shorter fishing seasons and lower salmon numbers. For his group, he says, the decision is good news.

"Without those runs, we don't fish. We don't have jobs. Our communities don't have any money. So, I look at this as a victory for the fishing industry, and a victory for the salmon - and ultimately, a victory for the Pacific Northwest."

Redden has given NOAA Fisheries until Jan. 1, 2014, to submit a new plan.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA