Salmon Justice

An interview with U.S. District Judge Jim Redden, who’s given uncooperative federal agencies clear warning: Submit a viable salmon restoration plan for the Snake/Columbia River Basin, or face the possible breaching of four major dams.

  • BEN GARRISON
  • FEDERAL CAUCUS
  • BEN GARRISON
 

On a spring afternoon in 1963, a controversial and universally disliked Oregon state representative returned to the House chambers in Salem from the noon break, well under the influence of a multiple-martini lunch. When he arrived, a fellow lawmaker — freshman Jim Redden from Medford — was waiting. Having accurately predicted that his colleague would spend his lunch hour getting lubricated, Redden enlisted other legislators to help give the man a special reception. Redden took to the floor and made a motion that the inebriated lawmaker should preside over the Oregon House of Representatives for the rest of the day. And Redden’s practical joke passed unanimously. A group of fellow representatives all but carried the besotted man to the speaker’s platform, where he collapsed into a chair, one foot in the wastebasket, while the other lawmakers commenced his verbal shredding.

Legislators from that era won’t name the target of Redden’s practical joke, but they are quick to say the prank was richly deserved. And they tell this and other stories of Redden wit with “I wish I had thought of that” awe.

More than four decades later, Redden — now a federal judge in Portland — is capturing attention for his ingenuity and resolve under far more serious circumstances. He presides over a long-running case that pits survival of Columbia and Snake River salmon against four hydroelectric dams that are steadily eliminating what once were some of the world’s most bountiful salmon runs. Fed up with bureaucratic foot-dragging and dodging, Redden is forcing the federal government to live up to its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act before the last wild salmon disappear. Redden has repeatedly found the government’s plans for saving 13 stocks of threatened or endangered salmon woefully inadequate and illegal. Now he is warning the federal agencies he may order them to consider “breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River if all else fails.”

A veteran of complex litigation, Redden is well steeped in the salmon wars. Longtime legal observers say he also is oblivious to the insults lobbed by federal legislators, irrigators and others who benefit from publicly subsidized hydroelectric dams.

“He is one of the great judicial figures of this region … and will not cower to political bullying,” says Mary Wood, law professor and Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Fellow at the University of Oregon. “If there are wild salmon in the Columbia River 100 years from now, it will be because Judge Redden carried out his responsibilities as a judge enforcing the Endangered Species Act.”

Only time will tell whether Redden’s carefully worded court orders spur the National Marine Fisheries Service, Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to produce a salmon recovery plan that meets the judge’s approval by mid-year. But Redden has made one thing clear: This is the federal government’s last chance.

“Landslide Redden”

Born and raised in Springfield, Mass., James A. Redden landed his first job at age 13, working in a drugstore. His dentist father urged him to leave high school early and join the Army to take advantage of the GI Bill. He started his tour as a hospital medic with occupation forces in post-war Japan in 1946.

Redden returned home three years later, finished high school, attended Boston University as an undergraduate and developed an affinity for the Red Sox that is reflected in the souvenir Wheaties box, baseball cap and baseball books tucked about his spacious chambers in the federal courthouse at the corner of Main and Salmon in downtown Portland. He enrolled in Boston College, married high school sweetheart Joan Johnson, and worked as a ditch digger, janitor, file clerk and holiday extra at the Post Office while earning his law degree. After graduation, Redden followed a professor’s advice to move west, spending a year in Portland working for a title company and then an insurance company before joining the Hugh Collins law firm in Medford.

“A trial lawyer’s life is a tough life in a lot of ways,” says Redden, who tried cases all over southern Oregon. “When you walked into court that first day to select a jury, there was that old knot in the stomach. I enjoyed it. (But) it’s a lot easier being a judge.”

Many fellow jurists admired his work.

“One of the things he taught me early on was integrity in the practice of law,” says Lane County Circuit Judge Lyle C. Velure, who, fresh out of law school, joined what by then was the Collins & Redden law firm. “He said two things would get me fired: if I ever went south on my word; and if I ever saw him making a mistake and didn’t tell him about it.”

Redden and his wife, Joan, raised two sons — Bill, a Portland public defender, and Jim, a reporter for the Portland Tribune newspaper.

“I remember it being pretty Ozzie and Harriet,” son Jim says. “My parents were at home every night. They liked to watch The Dean Martin Show and read big, thick, hardbound books.”

Jackson County voters elected Redden, a Democrat, state representative in 1963 as part of a freshman class that included future U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood and other Oregon notables.

“We called him ‘Landslide Redden’ because he won by 200 votes,” says U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones, then a fellow legislator who served on the Judiciary Committee with Redden. Jones described Redden as “the jokester in the Legislature,” recalling how he would circulate funny notes about bills and fellow legislators.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WILDLAND FIRE INSTRUCTOR
    Needed: instructor with 5 years *documented* instruction experience, current qualifications, M-410 or equivalent, and able to work as-needed for NM non-profit working with at-risk youth.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.