State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups ask federal court to protect salmon and create jobs

PORTLAND - The State of Oregon and a coalition of fishing and conservation groups asked a federal judge today for help in improving river conditions for endangered Northwest salmon and ensuring the jobs of Northwest fishermen. The injunction request filed in U.S. District Court seeks specific in-river protections in 2009 for Columbia-Snake River salmon. Judge James Redden will consider the request early next year after he is expected to rule on the plaintiffs' underlying claims against the Bush administration's 2008 salmon plan.

"This is a jobs issue for the fishing industry, pure and simple. The Snake and Columbia River dams still kill millions of salmon and devastate salmon-dependent communities all up and down the coast," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, one of the plaintiff groups. "Frankly, the Bush administration's policy has been nothing but denial and delay. With the new Obama administration and next year's Congress, we have a new opportunity to recover these once-mighty salmon runs before it is too late. Otherwise, we will see economic devastation in the Northwest like never before."

The injunction request seeks more spill over the dams and increased river flow through Columbia-Snake River reservoirs to help juvenile salmon migrate to the ocean. Science shows that the quicker young salmon make it through the heavily dammed river system, the higher their survival rate. But the Bush administration's salmon plan (also called a Biological Opinion, or "BiOp") released earlier this year rolls back - and even eliminates - some of the key protections ordered by the court in the past. Those court-ordered protections contributed to 2008's improved returns.

"We need the court to make sure we keep salmon on life support until we can get them to the recovery room," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "We saw improved salmon returns this year only because in 2006 fishers and conservationists fought tooth and nail in court to secure protections for these fish. But the Bush administration has already stripped away these protections, calling for lower flows and less spill. We're fighting to make sure that this year's good news will not become just a fleeting memory."

According to the Fish Passage Center, a government-funded, independent science and data analysis agency that monitors Columbia-Snake River salmon and steelhead, this year's improved returns are likely the result of more water left in the river and the spilling of additional water over dams in 2006 when the now-returning fish were migrating to the ocean as young salmon. Judge Redden court-ordered those in-river improvements after conservationists and fishermen fought to have them instituted - over the vehement objections of federal agencies. Fishermen are hailing the so-called "Redden effect" as an important tool for keeping and creating sustainable jobs in the region until a scientifically-sound, legally-valid salmon plan is in place.

"It's important to understand that what is being proposed in this preliminary injunction is not a long-term solution to the economic crisis in the Northwest," cautioned Spokane contractor and steelhead fisherman Harvey Morrison. "It's a stop-gap measure that we must rely on because the Bush administration has left us no other choice We need our Northwest lawmakers to show leadership and bring people together so that we can find lasting solutions that will secure fishing jobs as well as important transportation needs for farmers in Inland Northwest."

This June, the State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups filed litigation against the Bush administration's May 2008 salmon plan for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Courts have already invalidated three prior federal plans. On January 16, 2009, Judge Redden will hear oral arguments on the merits of the case. The injunction requested today is unlikely to be addressed until after the court rules on the merits. Any ruling on the proposed injunction would be made sometime after mid-February 2009.

Please note: I have attached a one-page outline of the specific measures requested in the injunction. If you have any questions, or would like me to send you the full version of the injunction request, please contact Emily Nuchols at [email protected]. Thank you!

Save Our Wild Salmon is a nationwide coalition of conservation organizations, river groups, fishing associations, businesses and taxpayer and clean energy advocates working collectively to restore abundant, sustainable wild salmon the rivers and streams of the Western salmon states.