There are a lot of activities behind the scenes as the federal government attempts to convince U.S. District Judge James Redden that they have done enough in their latest biological opinion to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
I have included for readers Don Chapman’s review of the science in the document as it relates to the Snake River salmon and steelhead, the fish that return to Idaho. He raises enough questions to give Redden doubts about the National Marine Fisheries Service using the “best science” in its analysis.
But Redden made it clear in his last decision he wanted the major players to come with a new plan collaboratively. For the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the electricity from the dams and returns the proceeds to the Pacific Northwest in the form of cheap energy, fish and wildlife programs and energy projects, this is where its best hope lies.
It worked with the governors of all four states and all of the Indian tribes in the region as it developed the plans. At the heart of its approach was the offer of more money for hatchery and habitat improvement programs to offset the impacts of the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
It had marching orders from the Bush Administration to keep breaching of four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington off the table. And its collaborative process did not include the sportsmen, environmentalists and salmon-related businesses that had joined the tribes and the state of Oregon in the lawsuit.
So now the BPA has one last chance to lure the tribes and Oregon to join them in backing the Bush Administration’s latest biological opinion. It is for some the moment of truth.
Will tribal and state leaders be willing to back off of long-held positions based on the judgment of their scientists, to support the plan in exchange for massive amounts of new money and jobs? Will the tribes and the states muffle their scientists in a way that the remaining plaintiff’s in Redden’s court will have a hard time demonstrating in court their assertions that the new plan doesn’t use the best science?
Will the states give in to what is currently a clear political reality, there is little support to breach the dams? Will the environmental lawyers who succeeded in causing a train wreck in the Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s over spotted owls and old growth forests be routed to a lonely siding along with their politically isolated clients?
And if they are, what will Redden do? Will he let the BPA and the states try to demonstrate they will truly take the steps necessary to recover salmon absent his involvement?
We’ll know some of the answers later this month when the federal government, the states and the tribes have to report to Redden on their collaborative efforts. Watch Oregon and the tribes.