Salmon win again (in court)

  Although endangered Snake River salmon appear to be losing their battle with extinction, they continue to win in court.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 9 that the Northwest Power Planning Council's plan for restoring Snake River salmon gives too much to industrial interests and too little to tribal and state biologists, reports The Oregonian. The council was created by Congress in 1980 and charged with giving salmon equal consideration with hydropower in the operation of federal dams in the Columbia River Basin.

In a ruling remarkably similar to federal judge Malcolm Marsh's decision last May, the three-judge panel said the agency might not be meeting that mandate: "Rather than asserting its role as a regional leader, the council has assumed the role of consensus builder, sometimes sacrificing the act's fish and wildlife goals for what is, in essence, the lowest common denominator acceptable to power interests and DSIs (aluminum companies)," said the judges.

The court instructed the power council to "defer" to state and tribal fish experts who want to try a variety of politically controversial measures to save the salmon, including reservoir drawdowns, flow augmentation and water spills over the dams. Industry representatives say it could force changes in dam operations that would make Northwest power rates soar. Power Council director Ed Sheets says the 58-page decision will provide "useful guidance" when the council begins amending its plan later this fall.

* Paul Larmer
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