A coalition of fishing, business, and conservation organizations asked a federal judge today to declare President Obama’s Columbia and Snake river salmon recovery plan illegal.
“We’d like to pretend this plan is just a ‘trick’ and the ‘treat’ is still to come,” said Michael Garrity of American Rivers. “But we can’t. We’ve been here too many times before. This administration has got to stop trying to put a pretty costume on an ugly plan and start following the law and science. We’re dealing with people’s livelihoods and keystone species on the brink of extinction.”
Because federal dams are harming threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia and Snake rivers, the law requires federal agencies to create a plan – or biological opinion (BiOp) – to reduce the damage. The papers filed today respond to the Obama administration’s continuing failure to provide legal, science-based plan.
“For two years the coalition has asked the Obama administration to uphold its promises for scientific integrity and transparency,” said former Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries chief Jim Martin. “It appears those were empty promises. If anything, the administration is going backward in terms of openness and scientific integrity.”
In 2009, the coalition asked Obama to review the 2008 Bush salmon plan. The Obama administration agreed to do so, but instead of significantly improving the legally flawed Bush salmon plan, the administration adopted the plan as its own. The only addition from the Obama administration was an Adaptive Management Implementation Plan (AMIP) that promises only to study additional measures to help Endangered Species Act-listed salmon should their populations collapse.
The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society judges the AMIP “inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.”
The Society review found that rather than using a precautionary approach to protecting threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, the plan “seems to use a precautionary principle to support the 2008 Biological Opinion and defend the status quo.”
Such skepticism of the Obama approach is widespread. “The federal government simply ignored science that didn’t meet its political goals – it ignored science from the AFS, fisheries biologists with the State of Oregon or the Nez Perce Tribe, and its own so-called ‘independent scientists,’” Martin said. “This plan puts the weight of risk on the fish in violation of the law, and the risk is of extinction.”
The Obama plan, according to the coalition’s filing, augments the flawed approaches of the past with new unscientific defects. For example, the Obama plan details the threat climate change poses to salmon, but proposes no new actions to address climate impacts.
Obama’s plan offers no new actions to protect Snake River sockeye salmon whose woefully low numbers have already tripped predetermined action “triggers.” The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society deems the federal agency approach to Snake River sockeye protection “inappropriate.”
Moreover, the Obama administration’s process for adopting the biological opinion has been shrouded in mystery. Legal proceedings have revealed federal agencies’ refusal to release more than 40 percent of the relevant documents.
“The current plan is nothing more than more of the same failed policies of the Bush administration, only with a new cover sheet.” said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), one of the plaintiff groups. “We’re seeing neither good science nor good policy in this plan – just another prescription for failure. More failure just destroys more salmon-dependent jobs. At-risk salmon-dependent communities have a right to a plan based on science and law, not on politics and denial.”
Briefing on the case will continue through the end of 2010. A hearing before the United States District Court in Oregon isn’t expected until early 2011.
Plaintiffs in this case include a broad range of regional and national conservation groups, fishing associations, and business interests. They are joined by the State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, and the Spokane Tribe of Washington.