Friday, August 12, 2011

No more salmon baloney

A federal judge ruled last week that salmon baloney is inedible—and harmful.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, formerly called the National Marine Fisheries Service, is the federal agency tasked to protect and recover endangered salmon in the Northwest.

U.S. District Judge James Redden issued a scathing review of the agency's efforts on behalf of the iconic fish.

In 2008 and 2010, the agency issued opinions that the operations of 14 sets of hydroelectric dams, powerhouses and reservoirs on the Columbia River System were not likely to put the continued existence of salmon in jeopardy.

The judge called the opinions "arbitrary and capricious." He further wrote that "NOAA Fisheries' approach to these issues is neither cautious nor rational."

In other words, the agency's claim to be helping the species is a big fish story.

The agency presented documents to the court showing that it had scurried around and piled up a lot of agreements with other groups in its effort to keep dam-battered salmon runs from disappearing from the Northwest.

But in the end, the documents were just a pile of paper good only for shuffling. They also showed that while the agency expressed hope for recovering salmon, it didn't have any specific projects scheduled between 2013 and 2018 that would help salmon survive.

The judge sent NOAA Fisheries back to the drawing board. He ordered continued spring and fall spills on Northwest dams to protect salmon migration. He ordered the agency to re-examine dam operations, to continue to report to the court and to come back by 2014 with real plans—no baloney.

Northwest conservation organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation, which was the lead plaintiff, hailed the decision as a victory for salmon. Idaho Rivers United hailed it as a victory for Idaho and businesses that depend on the millions of dollars the runs generate from fishermen and tourists.

Yes, it's another battle won. But the outcome of the struggle to save salmon is disturbingly far from certain.

Salmon face obstacles higher than any dam. They are built of disdainful and careless politicians, sleepwalking bureaucrats and commercial interests whose profits may be threatened by salmon recovery.

The clock is ticking. It's not just NOAA Fisheries that must do better. It's Congress, Northwest state governors, cities, businesses and dam operators.

If the legendary fish are to survive, they need more than a judge. They need a team that refuses to dish out baloney—and a public that refuses to buy it.

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