Judge James Redden made it clear Wednesday he believes federal dam managers have to do more if they want to avoid the regional train wreck environmental groups, sportsmen and others represented by environmental lawyers Earthjustice advocate.
He warned of “very harsh” consequences he had previously identified, including ordering more water from Idaho reservoirs, less water for hydroelectric generation and even drawing down reservoirs behind dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
He specifically pointed to Oregon’s suggestion of the drawing down of the John Day Dam on the Columbia, which kills more fish than any of the other eight dams between the Pacific and Idaho. But he acknowledged he didn’t expect the Bush administration to include breaching the four dams in its final biological opinion, according to the Oregonian.
Still Redden held out hope that a collaborative effort between federal agencies, the states and Indian tribes might yield a legally and biological defensible biological opinion. Some tribes appear to back the federal and state coalition. Others clearly aren’t there, at least not yet.
Part of the reason may be because of the issue of harvest. A separate biological opinion is in the works that would analyze whether fishing jeopardizes the 13 stocks of threatened and endangered salmon.
The tribes view their rights to fish as high a legal priority as the Endangered Species Act. They would not like to see it analyzed as a part of the analysis of these two biological opinions.
Salmon advocates had argued, and Redden accepted, the idea that the biological opinion for the Upper Snake, which is based on the Nez Perce water rights agreement, must be analyzed with the Columbia and lower Snake dam biological opinion.
They suffer a logical disconnect by not including fishing in the analysis since it is the sacred cow of their coalition. For an overall recovery plan for salmon to be able to scientifically predict recovery without breaching the four Snake dams, or perhaps John Day, it might be necessary to restrict fishing far more than already done.
If Redden were to strike down these two dam biological opinions in 2008 would the “very harsh” measures inherently have to include restrictions on fishing? I don’t think the tribes or other fishermen or fishing-related businesses want to go there.
Oregon remained firmly on the side of the salmon advocates Wednesday. They have long advocated a truly aggressive non-breach plan recognizing that such a plan may cost the region more than breaching the four dams, which does not have the necessary political support.
Redden appears ready to listen if Oregon can convince the other states, the tribes and the federal government to take the harsh medicine such a plan might need to pass scientific muster. I think the judge would rather be the engineer of a road map to recovery than the one who runs the train into the river.