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Know the West

Kickstarting salmon salvation?


After years of legal deadlock over the federal government's inadequate attempts to recover Columbia Basin salmon devastated by dams, the Obama administration appears to be steering a new course. Ken Olsen just wrote High Country News an extensive analysis of how this new political order -- combined with the efforts of a diligent federal judge, Congressional changes, shifts in attitude among dam beneficiaries, renewable energy gains and other factors -- could finally get federal salmon recovery rolling, potentially even leading to the eventual removal of four particularly harmful dams on the lower Snake River.

Just after Olsen's article went to press (it will appear in the May 11 issue and is now featured on our Web site), the Obama administration made a move that appears to bolster Olsen's analysis. In a letter to U.S. District Judge James Redden, who is overseeing the longstanding salmon case, Obama administration officials announced that they want extra time to review the outgoing Bush administration's final salmon recovery plan. The Associated Press reports:

The Justice Department said top officials in the Obama administration want a delay of up to two months to "more fully understand all aspects" of the plan.

. . .

Witt Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Portland, said the delay would give officials of the new administration time to familiarize themselves with all the issues in the complex case. Jane Lubchenco, the new administrator of NOAA, was among those attending high-level meetings on the case in recent days.

Of course, that's not a definitive indication that the administration will change the plan, or finally include the option of breaching dams to save fish. But it may be among the first indications that major changes are in order for Northwest salmon.