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THE COALITION FOR IDAHO WATER, INC.
Boise, Idaho – April 9, 2007
A decision today by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals may prove a significant turning point in the decades old battle over just how to solve the problem of restoring Pacific Northwest salmon runs, officials with the Coalition for Idaho Water said today.
The Appeals Court upheld a 2005 lower court decision that requires all parties in the case to work together to put together a regional plan that adequately protects endangered salmon and steelhead. The parties include the States of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, and Native American Tribes
“While not parties to the lower Snake and Columbia litigation, the Coalition for Idaho Water and its members are vitally interested in the outcome, as it could have indirect impacts on the biological opinion for the Upper Snake River projects in Idaho and eastern Oregon. While additional appeals are possible, the Coalition feels the decision provides a new impetus to develop cooperative regional solutions that work for the fish and the region,” said Coalition spokesman Norm Semanko.
The Coalition also believes the regional collaboration approach set down in the decision may now hold the best hope for a successful outcome. The Coalition is formed from more than 50 different organizations representing Idaho counties, cities, chambers of commerce, industrial, municipal and commercial water users, and agricultural groups.
“It was a similar process that was used to arrive at the historic Nez Perce Water Rights Settlement between the federal government, the State of Idaho, Nez Perce Tribe and water users. That agreement, which provides for water for flow augmentation from willing sellers, consistent with State law, in exchange for dismissal of most of the Tribe’s claims in the Snake River Basin Adjudication, must be preserved, and can in fact serve as a cornerstone for the regional collaboration now underway. The State, the feds and the Tribe are all at the table in the collaboration and are well-positioned to make sure this happens,” Semanko added.
Another important element in the decision is the jeopardy requirement. Coalition officials say that aspect means any human-caused activity that results in a loss of endangered fish, such as commercial or recreational harvest, will now have to come under close scrutiny to see if it violates the Endangered Species Act.
“That requirement makes an even stronger, more compelling case for a collaborative approach to the problem. It also places a greater emphasis on those things being done to enhance the survival rates of the endangered runs,” Semanko said.
The Coalition also cited as positive the language in the Appeals Court decision that expressly limits the ability of a District Court judge to order dam removal or any other outcome from the collaborative process. That provision serves as a permissible procedural restriction rather than an impermissible substantive restraint, the Coalition spokesman noted
Semanko also called for environmental plaintiffs in the litigation to move away from their current narrow, single-focus approach to salmon recover and to avoid trying to derail the collaborative process, even if the outcome does not satisfy their narrow “breach the dams” agenda.
“The lower court’s order called for the federal government to issue a “failure report” if the process is not successful, and then to identify additional measures, including the breaching of dams which could appear to environmental groups as a powerful incentive to work against the collaborative process, as they have continually done with the Nez Perce Agreement. If they truly care about the fate of the listed fish they should be willing to become part of a regional solution,” Semanko added.
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