Parties to a long-running lawsuit over federal Columbia River system hydropower operations have agreed to another stay of litigation so they can continue working toward a long-term solution that recovers the region’s salmon and steelhead and more.
The Biden Administration and state of Oregon, three tribes and conservation organizations represented by the National Wildlife Federation agreed to give it another 13 months after the previous nine-month stay expired at the end of July.
The extension of the pause was termed “an important step to continue charting a path forward” in an announcement from the Department of Interior today.
“The Administration is committed to supporting development of a durable long-term strategy to restore salmon and other native fish populations to healthy and abundant levels, while honoring federal commitments to Tribal Nations, delivering affordable and reliable clean power, and meeting the many resilience needs of the basin’s diverse stakeholders across the region, including those that use the rivers for irrigation, transportation, water supply, and recreation. This process will afford affected states, Tribal Nations, and regional stakeholders the opportunity to identify and implement alternative and durable solutions to longstanding challenges in the Columbia River Basin,” a DOI press release stated.
An attorney representing fishing and conservation organizations pointed to the Biden Administration’s “unequivocal commitment” to restoring salmon and steelhead populations in the watershed and said in the near term it should be wrapped around breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River.
The motion for the stay filed in US District Court for Oregon includes word that the feds have hired a mediation and conciliation service to work with stakeholders, and it includes 90-day progress reports and a requirement for the Biden Administration to produce an actions and milestones schedule by December 1.
And according to some members of the coalition suing the feds, any of the parties can ask a US District Court judge to lift the pause “if the Biden Administration fails to take timely and sufficient action to meet the commitments it has made.”
“Our salmon and steelhead are in crisis and our fishing communities are too. We urgently need bold action from the Biden Administration with actionable timelines,” stated Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “This extension of the litigation stay is an opportunity for the Administration to put its money where its mouth is. If they fail to act quickly and decisively, we will not hesitate to return to court to protect the fish. We hope we don’t have to do that, but we are prepared to if it is our only option.”
Besides the state of Oregon, other plaintiffs include the Nez Perce, Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Tribes, and a number of fishing and conservation organizations under the NWF umbrella.
Last month was expected to see the rollout of a “comprehensive regional salmon restoration plan” from Washington senior US Senator Patty Murray and Jay Inslee, but that has been delayed.
Last year, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson (R) proposed a $33.5 billion plan to recover salmon and steelhead, replace lost hydropower, and help farmers get their crops to market and communities adjust to the change.