Idaho salmon in hands of federal judge

PORTLAND — A federal district judge adjourned court earlier than expected today following a hearing that could lead to a landmark decision on recovery of Endangered Species Act-listed salmon and steelhead in Idaho.

Idaho Rivers United Conservation Policy Director Kevin Lewis attended the hearing, along with three Idaho Rivers United board members. IRU is a plaintiff in the case, along with sport fishing and commercial fishing allies, the State of Oregon and Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe.

Lewis reported that not long after noon, Federal District Judge James Redden asked attorneys if they had anything more to contribute after considering issues that ranged from questionable recovery standards to population data analyses. When attorneys answered no, Redden adjourned proceedings for the day without offering much indication of what he is thinking.

“What we hope is that the judge sees through the smoke-and-mirrors approach the federal government has taken in building this latest plan, which still fails to address the needs of salmon after nearly 20 years in court,” Lewis said. “We can’t try to guess what the Judge will do, but the future of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead depend significantly on his decision.”

At question is a federal recovery blueprint, called a biological opinion, that was drafted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries bureau. It is the fourth such plan, and the second iteration of a document that was first penned by the Bush administration in 2008 and later revamped by officials working for President Obama.

“The Obama plan not only adopts the problems of the Bush document, but it compounds those problems and has several of its own,” said IRU Executive Director Bill Sedivy. “It’s sad that this administration has allowed the interests of a few commercial and industrial river users to influence its decision on Columbia-Snake river salmon.”

The timing of Redden’s next steps are not certain, but he could issue a decision sometime this summer, perhaps as early as June.