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Latest Serving of the "Salmon Plan" Lands on Judge’s Plate

September 16, 2009

BOISE, Idaho - A federal judge has a new serving of the "salmon plan" on his plate this week. After months of review, the Obama administration has presented its version of a biological opinion to manage federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers without pushing endangered salmon and steelhead closer to extinction.

Greg Stahl, assistant policy director for Idaho Rivers United, says the new version looks a lot like the previous one rejected by the judge, with a few additions: accelerating hatchery improvements, habitat work and predator controls.

"Those things are all fantastic for salmon, but we don't believe that measurable recovery of wild stocks of salmon and steelhead are going to transpire based on those projects."

U.S. District Court Judge James Redden in Portland must review the new biological opinion before it can go into effect, but Stahl hopes the discussion about restoring wild fish will move out of the courtroom and onto the negotiating table. The ultimate goal, he says, is for farmers, transportation experts, tribes, state officials, energy companies, sport fishing groups and professional fishing organizations to sit down and talk about how those dams can be changed and how everyone can benefit - because what's going on now isn't working.

"The fact of the matter is, these species are listed on the Endangered Species Act. They have declined. They're at the bottom of the barrel."

The plan orders a study on the possibility of breaching the four dams on the Lower Snake River that kill the most fish, but Stahl says it includes no timeline. His group believes giving fish clear access around the dams is the only way they can be saved. Those opposed to breaching dams say it will negatively impact irrigation, energy and transportation systems; the new version of the salmon plan says focusing on other projects will offset the fish kills at those dams.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID