SEATTLE—Trout Unlimited announced last week that it is asking permission from the federal district court in Portland to withdraw as a plaintiff from a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the agencies’ inadequate plans to recover Columbia and Snake River salmon runs, opting instead to seek resolution through a collaborative forum involving all major stakeholders.
Since the mid-1990s, TU and a diverse group of conservation and fishing interests have successfully challenged every plan issued by the federal agencies to offset the enormous harm federal hydroelectric dams inflict on wild salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia and Snake rivers – most recently this past summer.
“Without question, this litigation has been pivotal in obtaining improvements in dam operations and fish habitat that have helped slow the decline of wild salmon and steelhead,” said Chris Wood, TU’s president and CEO. “But slowing decline isn’t enough. We need to recover these remarkable fish, and one way to do that is to sit down with the people most affected by salmon recovery and work out an agreement that meets their economic needs while recovering these fish of enormous cultural, economic and ecologic value.”
TU has enjoyed success in helping to bring multiple, and sometimes competing, stakeholders together to achieve collaborative conservation successes in the West. Examples include the creation of the Idaho Roadless Rule that protected 9 million acres of roadless federal lands, and the Wyoming Range Legacy Act that protected more than one million acres of public land from new oil and gas development. Both of these conservation successes occurred after political leaders from both sides of the aisle brought stakeholders together to find solutions.
“We are pleased with our involvement in the litigation to date, and we are grateful to our conservation partners who have kept pressure on the federal government to follow the science and the law,” said Rob Masonis, TU’s vice president for western conservation programs.
While progress has been made through the courts, a durable solution that both recovers healthy wild salmon and steelhead populations and addresses the needs of affected communities has not emerged. TU believes it can best contribute to achieving that solution by advocating outside the courtroom for a collaborative forum in which key stakeholders work together in good faith to achieve it. “While we still support the goals of the litigation, we believe that TU’s unique skills and experience can be most effectively brought to bear if we are no longer involved in the litigation,” said Masonis.
TU’s call for a collaborative approach to resolving the long-standing controversy over wild salmon and steelhead recovery in the Columbia and Snake rivers is not new. In 2009, TU and our conservation and fishing group partners asked the Obama administration and Congress to put together a collaborative forum for this purpose, with representation from all corners, but the request was denied.
“We have prevailed in the courts, from the Clinton administration through the Bush administration to the Obama administration,” Wood said. “But legal successes have not translated to fish recovery, and a cloud of uncertainty continues to hang over the region. We are asking the Obama administration to convene a forum to allow the communities of place and interest to work toward a solution that recovers wild salmon and steelhead while maintaining or improving the economic well-being of affected communities. We have seen this approach succeed, and we urge the Obama administration to work with the Northwest delegation and governors to make it happen.”
Trout Unlimited is a private, non-profit organization with more than 147,000 members dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook on Twitter via @TroutUnlimited.
Chris Wood, President and CEO, (571) 274-0601
Rob Masonis, Vice President for Western Conservation, (206) 491-9016