Last August I wrote about Judge Redden’s rejection of the Obama administration’s plan to restore Columbia River steelhead and salmon. Well, it’s déjà vu all over again.

The plan, called a Biological Opinion (BiOp) was originally submitted to the court by the Bush administration. Instead of kicking it to the curb, the Obama team made a few additions, known as an Adaptive Management Implementation Plan (AMIP), but the plan has once again failed to pass legal muster in court. Judge Redden has again made it clear that it was either fix the plan, or risk losing it, so the Obama administration announced Friday that it will revamp its plan for recovering salmon on the mighty Columbia River.

Judge Redden’s letter makes it pretty clear:

“I will not sign an order of voluntary remand that effectively relieves federal defendants of their obligation to use the best available science and consider all important aspects of the problem. This court will not dictate the scope or substance of federal defendants’ remand, but federal defendants must comply with the [Endangered Species Act] in preparing any amended/supplemental biological opinion.”

But the feds have yet to listen and Redden has twice before rejected federal blueprints for Columbia Basin salmon and has given the Obama administration multiple opportunities and more than a year to fix the one currently before his court. We still don’t have a plan that’s going to save salmon.

The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS) released a scientific review of the Obama administration’s proposed additions to the federal salmon plan for the Columbia-Snake River Basin. The society’s assessment concludes that AMIP, is not aggressive, rigorous, or specific enough to help bolster imperiled runs of wild salmon and steelhead.

Jim Martin, former chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said: “These experts looked at the AMIP and asked two all-important questions: does it do enough to help struggling salmon, and does it utilize the best science? Unfortunately, the answer to both questions appears to be no.”

With true recovery of wild salmon and steelhead in question, fishing and river communities have been left to bear the brunt with unprecedented closures and restrictions from Southeast Alaska to Monterey Bay, Calif. Fishing communities are also at the forefront, urging NOAA to create a viable plan.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “A thoughtful, science-based plan will allow for the rebuilding of recreational and commercial fishing jobs, while also protecting other stakeholders throughout the Basin. It’s science, but it’s not rocket science; we can do this, provided we put salmon biology in the driver’s seat where it belongs.”

So, what’s up? With all of these folks pushing for a solid plan, why is NOAA failing miserably?

Politics are trumping science again. Where the political pressure to flout the science is coming from remains unclear, leaving us to speculate. Many fingers are pointing at Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA. A former Governor from Washington State, Locke no doubt maintains ties to Washington Senators Murray and Cantwell. To date, Senators Murray and Cantwell remain unwilling to even discuss alternatives to the status quo in the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Seems like more than a coincidence.

A recent Daily Astorian editorial said of the BiOp under Locke’s leadership at NOAA: “in no way are they the kind of bold actions that will convincingly alter the sad end game of the Pacific Northwest’s “totem” creature.”

I couldn’t agree more. The science is clear, the law is clear, and Judge Redden has given NOAA one more chance to get this right. I hope they listen. It’s high time we take strong actions to save these fish, our rivers and ourselves.

For more information visit: WildSalmon.org

Special thanks to Bobby Hayden, Emily Nuchols, and Jeff Hickman for background information


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