Circuit Slips Hook in Salmon Fight

The battle between salmon protection and hydropower in the Columbia River Basin has created a century of conflict, but on Wednesday a federal appeals court said it had no authority to resolve the latest dispute.

“Unlike the many cases we have decided concerning the fate of fish in the ColumbiaRiver Basin, the claims before us are not susceptible to federal judicial review,” said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeal was brought by the Wild Fish Conservancy to challenge U.S. diversion of water from Icicle Creek to a national fish hatchery.  Icicle Creek is a tributary of the WenatcheeRiver and the Columbia River in Washington state.

The fight is for control of water necessary to sustain native fish populations in Icicle Creek.  The conservancy alleges the U.S. is improperly diverting water from the creek to the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery.

Judge Sidney Thomas said the group lacked standing to sue and the court lacks jurisdiction to consider the claims.

Of the long-running litigation over salmon runs in the basin, Thomas said, “This iteration does not present the ‘classic struggle between environmental and energy interests,’ but instead a more nuanced conflict between two entities seeking to repair the damage the dams have done to the basin’s fisheries.”

The ColumbiaRiver Basin was once the home of the world’s largest salmon runs, but over the last 100 years the river and its tributaries were re-engineered to become the most hydroelectrically developed river system in the world, with more than 150 dams, the court said.

The combination of dams, over-fishing, deforestation, mining, grazing, agriculture and urbanization drove salmon and steelhead to near extinction.

Joining Thomas were Judges Jacqueline Nguyen and Raymond Dearie, a visiting judge from New York.

Case: Wild Fish Conservancy v. Jewell, No.10-35303


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