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Monday, January 31, 2005
Ore. joins endangered species suit against NMFS
Natalie M. Henry,
Greenwire Northwest reporter
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon has joined environmentalists, fishers and
Native Americans in an ongoing lawsuit alleging that federal plans for
operating the Columbia and Snake river dams threatens salmon and
Following through on a promise that Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) gave in his
State of the State speech earlier this month, the state asked a U.S.
District Court judge here last Friday to force the National Marine
Fisheries Service to draft a new strategy that complies with the
Endangered Species Act.
At issue is NMFS's recent Columbia River salmon strategy, which is known
as the 2004 biological opinion. The opinion dictates dam operations and
other activities to protect 12 stocks of ESA-listed salmon. It replaces
an opinion issued in 2000, which environmentalists said did not
adequately protect salmon and the court threw out in 2003 for violating
The state and its partners in the lawsuit are asking Judge James Redden
to throw out the new NMFS strategy and make the agency start fresh. The
state also wants Redden to dictate operation of the dams while awaiting
NMFS's next opinion. Such action is necessary in order to protect the
endangered fish, the state wrote in a complaint filed Friday.
The state has drafted its own plan for dam operations calling for
significant changes to the federal power system in the Columbia and
The state's plan proposes sending more water down the Snake River from
Idaho, where water is already scarce; spilling more water over the dams
in the summer, which reduces power production; and drastically reducing
the number of fish barged and trucked around the dams
The state says last year's opinion is illegal because NMFS only analyzed
the dams' operation and did not consider how the dams' presence affects
salmon. Furthermore, the state claims NMFS's evaluation of whether
operation of the dams will degrade critical habitat is inadequate. NMFS
did not consider the cumulative effects of the operation of the 14 dams
on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers along with the operation of 10
federal dams further upriver in Idaho; and NMFS failed to use the best
available data, as required under ESA, the state says.
Judge will wait to rule on upper Snake River dams
Judge Redden is also deliberating on a separate but related salmon
lawsuit involving the same parties and some of the same endangered
salmon -- four stocks of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the lower
Environmental and fishing groups claim the biological opinion dictating
operation of 10 dams on the upper Snake River in Idaho violates ESA
because it does not adequately consider the needs of salmon in the lower
Moreover, the groups say it was illegal to separate the basin out and
issue two distinct biological opinions in 2000, one for the upper basin
and one for the lower basin. The opinion for the lower basin is the one
the state of Oregon has recently joined suit against.
Redden decided it was not appropriate for him to rule before NMFS issues
a new opinion for the upper basin in March.
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