Thursday, June 02, 2005

Federal Fish Fiasco Foiled

At the Bonneville dam on the northwest's Columbia river it is estimated that salmon swimming upstream will number less than half of their usual 225,000. Indian nations, long dependent on the river's bounty, must seek other sources of fish for their springtime ceremonies, food and economic stability. Commercial fishing and tourism have also suffered. Theories range from natural to man-made causes, but there are no clear answers at this time. Actions of the administration have served, at least in part, to keep the cause unclear.
Last week a Federal District Court Judge, Judge James A. Redden, ruled that the Bush administration had manipulated its analysis of the effects of 14 federal dams on salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Judge Redden determined that the government had failed to ascertain that its' actions would likely negatively impact the two endangered species. From the New York Times (emphasis added):

A federal judge in Oregon ruled Thursday that the Bush administration had arbitrarily limited and skewed its analysis of the harm that 14 federal dams cause to endangered Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead. As a result, Judge James A. Redden of Federal District Court ruled, the administration had shirked its duty to ensure that government actions were not likely to jeopardize the survival of the species.

The matter is now being sent back to the National Marine Fisheries Service for the third time for a determination. The Times continues:

In his ruling, Judge Redden pointed out four fundamental flaws in the November 2004 "biological opinion" presented by the National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which estimated the threats to the fish and made conservation recommendations. Chief among the flaws cited was the distinction that the agency drew, for the first time, between harm to the fish resulting from the dams' existence and the harm resulting from the operation of the dams. ... The judge ruled that the administration was trying to carve out a loophole that would restrict its obligations under the Endangered Species Act. ...Judge Redden added that the consequences would be an analysis "that ignores the reality of past, present and future effects of federal actions on listed species." ... The November 2004 biological opinion was just such an analysis, the judge wrote, adding, that "N.O.A.A.'s interpretation conflicts with the structure, purpose and policy behind" the Endangered Species Act. He also said the analysis "has the effect of substantially lowering the threshold required for the mitigation."

Attempting to change the rules by which the government must play, have we heard this theme before? Score one for the fish.


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