In a May 2003 ruling, a Federal District Judge said the government’s attempt to use habitat restoration and other steps to compensate for the harm caused by the Columbia river dams fell short of the standards required by the Endangered Species Act. The judge gave the NOAA until 2 June 2004 to redraft the plan. Conservation groups have asked the court to hold the NOAA to a 15 September deadline.
The fisheries service of the NOAA is entrusted with implementing measures to protect a dozen depleted salmon runs in the Columbia Basin. Managing those stocks under the Endangered Species Act has become a sometimes controversial, difficult process that pits the needs of fish against those of power generators, cities and rural interests.
Conservation groups involved in the case have generally agreed to an extension of some length to allow the federal government to develop its plan in a collaborative arrangement started last year. It has involved state fish and wildlife agencies from Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho, and the sovereign tribes with treaty rights to Columbia Basin salmon.