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Originally published May 20, 2010 at 7:38 PM | Page modified May 21, 2010 at 8:49 AM

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Feds: No major changes for Columbia Basin salmon

The Obama administration has made no major changes to a plan to protect endangered wild salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin, dismaying salmon advocates who say they expected more. The government on Thursday submitted revisions for a 2008 Bush-era biological plan to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland.

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — The Obama administration has made no major changes to a plan to protect endangered wild salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin, dismaying salmon advocates who say they expected more.

The government on Thursday submitted revisions for a 2008 Bush-era biological plan to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland.

Redden said in February that the plan likely violated the Endangered Species Act, but he gave the government three months to review new science that might strengthen it.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recommendations include studying salmon migration, monitoring water temperatures and other effects of climate change, and creating a team of fisheries managers to resolve potential harm to wild salmon runs by hatchery fish.

"After we reviewed all the information we've accumulated over the last three months, only modest changes were necessary," said Bruce Suzumoto, NOAA Fisheries assistant regional administrator for hydropower. "The actions are more along the lines of study, research."

Proponents of the government's plan urged court approval to end years of fighting over salmon recovery.

"It is time for the federal court to approve this plan and for the region to begin the process of implementation," said a statement from Scott Corwin, executive director of the Public Power Council.

Redden twice before had found that federal plans to balance cheap hydroelectric power against the survival of wild salmon violated the Endangered Species Act.

In sending the plan back to the government in February, Redden had warned that he would view with "heightened skepticism" efforts to deal with the issues superficially.

Opponents said the government's revisions did little to make hydroelectric dams safer for the Columbia Basin's 13 endangered salmon and steelhead runs.

"These guys came out with Band-Aids when we're hemorrhaging from a major artery," said Nicole Cordan, policy and legal director for Save Our Wild Salmon. "These are species that are already imperiled, and they're saying, 'We're going to do less for them.' "

Michael Carrier, natural resources policy director for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said he was disappointed in the revised plan — and that federal officials didn't collaborate with other governments, tribes and groups involved with salmon restoration.

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Salmon advocates had urged the government to at least begin planning the controversial removal of four dams on the Snake River, and allow for spillage — that is, allow water to flow over dams to help salmon and steelhead smolts headed out to sea.

"Any fish living above the dams are ESA listed, and that isn't going to change with a tweak here and a twist there," said Glen Spain, northwest representative of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, which represents commercial fishermen. "It's disappointing to see them do little or nothing and dance around the big issues once again."

With the revisions, Redden could issue an order or invite further review.

Opponents said they likely would fight the government's plan if Redden approves it.

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