Practiced at the Art of Deception: The Failure of Columbia Basin Salmon Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act

102 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2006

See all articles by Michael C. Blumm

Michael C. Blumm

Lewis & Clark Law School

Erica J. Thorson

Lewis & Clark Law School

Joshua D. Smith

Independent

Abstract

The saga of Columbia Basin salmon recovery is one of the foremost natural resource restoration efforts in the United States over the last quarter-century. Although development of the world's largest integrated hydroelectric system crippled the Columbia's salmon runs, Congress declared in 1980 that salmon and hydropower were to become co-equals in the management of Columbia Basin dams. That declaration did not prevent the listing of most Columbia Basin salmon runs under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), however.

Widely perceived as a Draconian, economically insensitive statute, the ESA has proved extremely pliable in the case of Columbia Basin salmon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency charged with implementing the statute in the case of salmon, consistently chose to exercise its discretion to largely preserve status quo hydropower and navigation operations. While this rather remarkable development has apparently escaped the attention of congressional reformers attempting to make the ESA more economically accountable, it has not escaped the attention of many in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, a series of lawsuits over the last decade has challenged NOAA's ESA implementation.

The suits have, for the most part, born fruit. NOAA's two most recent biological opinions have been struck down, and the federal district court has indicated that without a drastic change in course, salmon recovery is headed for a train wreck. Thus, the Columbia Basin salmon story appears about to embark on a new era of active judicial oversight. This article explains how and why this development came to be, and charges that NOAA and the federal agencies operating Columbia Basin dams have engaged in longstanding deceptive practices, in an attempt to mislead the public and Congress into thinking that meaningful salmon restoration is underway, when in fact it has never been seriously attempted.

Keywords: natural resources, endangered species, salmon, hydropower

JEL Classification: H77, H82, K32, Q22, Q28, R52

Suggested Citation

Blumm, Michael C. and Thorson, Erica J. and Smith, Joshua D., Practiced at the Art of Deception: The Failure of Columbia Basin Salmon Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental Law, Vol. 36, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=887633

Michael C. Blumm (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States
503-768-6824 (Phone)
503-768-6701 (Fax)

Erica J. Thorson

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219
United States

Joshua D. Smith

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

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