In the continuing struggle to rescue salmon from the fate of other abused species, U.S. District Judge James Redden has shown a remarkable and commendable tenacity in the face of political and bureaucratic smokescreens.
Judge Redden this week rendered his second major opinion denouncing the federal government's botched methods of trying to spare salmon from extinction.
He's ordered the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries to take into account the impact of lower Snake River dams and upper river irrigation projects together—not separately—on the fragile survivability of salmon.
Judge Redden wrote, "Rebuilding salmon to healthy, harvestable levels will come in large part from addressing the impacts of the down-river dam operations that do the most harm to salmon," while ordering "the water of the upper Snake projects and its uses must be an integral part of the analysis."
Defenders of the status quo characterized Judge Redden as out of touch. A joint statement from Idaho's congressional delegation, Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Reps. Butch Otter and Mike Simpson read, "a federal judge is trying to run the river with blatant disregard for the critical needs of the Northwest,"
However, the only "critical needs" they have in mind are Snake River dams that generate just 5 percent of the region's hydro power—plus generate political support for the delegation.
But a more believable community of dedicated advocates of salmon survival sees the needs of the Northwest in a more realistic and non-political perspective.
Jim Hasselman, of the National Wildlife Federation, considers the "Northwest way of life (to be) abundant salmon, stable jobs and reliable energy," and deplores what he calls "this administration's vision for the Pacific Northwest (of spending) $6 billion managing the path of the salmon towards extinction."
Restoring salmon to abundance, he estimates, would "see almost half a billion dollars in economic benefit from sport fishing" for Idaho alone.
American Rivers insists that NOAA's "own documents state that the dams are allowed to kill as many as 86 percent of out-migrating juvenile salmon."
The grand visions of the Republican Party's pioneering environmentalist, President Teddy Roosevelt, have been thoroughly trashed by a new generation of politicians who consider natural resources to be disposable liabilities.
Salmon take their place alongside the dubious future of so many other national assets that T.R. cherished—parks, roaring waterways and forests—that are being shown modern-day disregard and abuse. Judge Redden and dogged advocates for the salmon are the last hope for the legacy of the Northwest.