Harbor Dam on the Snake River near
Burbank, Wash., is shown in 1999. Justice
Department made its rebuttal argument
Wednesday. (Associated Press file photo)
PORTLAND, Ore. - Conservationists and the
federal government argued in court this week
over whether the federal government is
responsible for the threatened and endangered
salmon that die making their way past
hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake
A coalition of environmentalists, sports
anglers and American Indian tribes argued that
the latest federal program for operating the
dams under the Endangered Species Act treats
the man-made structures as part of the
landscape and fails to take responsibility for
irreparable harm to the fish.
In their rebuttal Wednesday in U.S.
District Court in Portland, the Justice
Department argued that the federal agencies
that control the 14 dams dissecting the
Columbia and Snake Rivers cannot be held
responsible for the existence of the dams,
which predate the passage of the Endangered
They can only be held responsible for the
extra mortality caused by how the dams are
operated, not the mortality based on the
existence of the dams, said attorney Fred
Disheroon, representing NOAA Fisheries, the
federal agency responsible for restoring
salmon runs in danger of extinction. ''The
statute applies to those things you can stop.
You cannot stop operating the hydrosystem. You
have to operate it in some way,'' he said.
At the end of the nearly eight-hour long
hearing, U.S. District Judge James Redden said
he intended to issue his decision in early
May, adding: ''It is not an easy decision to
make - and I hope I make the right one.''
Under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA
Fisheries must decide whether the federally
operated dams jeopardize the survival of 12
threatened and endangered salmon runs, and if
they do, propose ways to overcome the harm.
The review is known as a biological opinion.
In May 2003, Redden ruled that the
biological opinion issued in 2000 was illegal
because the federal government could not
guarantee that habitat enhancements and
upgrades to hatchery and dam operations would
The latest biological opinion set a new
course for salmon recovery by taking the stand
that the dams are part of the ecosystem and
cannot be removed.