WASHINGTON - Despite a judge's ruling striking down a salmon recovery plan, a top federal official said Tuesday that government efforts to recover threatened Pacific Northwest salmon are "largely on track."
Robert Lohn, regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, said a 10-year plan adopted in late 2000 is adequate to restore threatened salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.
"It's our belief that the basic structure of the biological opinion is succeeding," Lohn said, referring to the federal name for the salmon plan. "In general, fish runs are improving and the kinds of actions we expect to take place are taking place."
Lohn's comments, after a Senate hearing Tuesday, appear to contradict a federal judge's ruling last month that the salmon plan violates the Endangered Species Act.
In a May 7 ruling, U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland said there is no certainty that the government's proposed recovery steps - primarily improvements to fish habitat and hatcheries - will succeed in time to save disappearing salmon.
Redden ordered the fisheries agency, formerly known as the National Marine Fisheries Service, to rewrite the plan within a year. He has not ruled on a related request by environmentalists to eliminate the plan while it is being reworked.
Environmental groups have said the ruling will force the Bush administration to reconsider the politically explosive issue of breaching four federal dams on the Snake River - an action environmentalists have sought for years.
The Bush administration opposes breaching, as do governors of the four states covered by the salmon plan. At a meeting this month, Democratic Govs. Gary Locke of Washington and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon joined Republican Govs. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho and Judy Martz of Montana in calling for a "balanced" strategy that excludes breaching the four Snake River dams.
Environmentalists called that approach - and what they called the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy - inadequate.
"Staying the course means the ship of salmon recovery will hit the rocks and break apart," said Pat Ford, executive director of Save our Wild Salmon, an advocacy group.
He and other conservation groups urged Congress to hike funding for salmon recovery and force other changes, including restoration of migratory habitats.