PORTLAND, Ore. - Today in a Portland courtroom, final arguments are being presented in a case that could determine the future of salmon in the Northwest. On one side: the federal agencies that operate the hydropower system and those responsible for making sure endangered salmon species don't go extinct. On the other side: the State of Oregon, fishing and conservation groups and the Nez Perce tribe, all of whom say the feds' plan costs too much and won't do enough.
Federal Judge James Redden is the man who will make the call. Jim Martin, a retired fisheries director for the State of Oregon, says today's hearing is one last shot at determining if there's any room for compromise.
"There's such a fundamental disagreement between the plaintiffs and the defendants. He wants to be very, very careful, because he anticipates somebody's going to try to appeal this - one way or the other - the stakes are so high. He wants to do a careful and good job, which I respect immensely."
Groups that oppose the current salmon plan say it isn't much different than two others that were rejected by the judge. Martin says the plan falls short for wild species that swim the farthest, through the dam system and inland to Idaho.
"My take on it is, it's not good enough. It puts too much of the risk of uncertainty on the fish, and that's very unfortunate, because the judge has given plenty of prodding to the action agencies and the government. They could have taken care of the concerns of the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Oregon, the fishing interests and the environmental interests - they just decided not to."
Plaintiffs say the plan offers less protection for the fish than they now have, at substantially higher costs; the federal agencies say it balances fish survival with hydropower, shipping and agriculture interests.
Both sides in the debate say they're using the best available science, and they question each other's studies and analysis. Martin says there's a lot of pressure on the judge, because the decision will affect the tourism and fishing industries in the Northwest, but points out that Redden has been considering this issue for well over a decade. His ruling is expected this summer.
The hearing is at 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court, 1000 SW Third Ave., Portland.