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OI Salmon Conversations: Judge James Redden
In April of 2012, Judge James Redden with the U.S. District Court of Oregon sat down with Outdoor Idaho Producer Aaron Kunz to discuss the two-decade-long salmon case. It was during that conversation that Judge Redden made it clear what he thinks about the four federal dams on the lower Snake River in Washington.
Aaron Kunz: How did you get the salmon Biological Opinion (The salmon management plan that has been in the federal court since 1992) case?
Kunz: Did you know how long this case would last?
They made it really difficult to get the job done because they weren't considering or worrying about the salmon.
Kunz: Is the difficult part the fact that nobody seems willing to compromise?
The dams and the hydro and the power. They just didn't want to and do not want to make changes on dams. We've done some good work on that and urged them and told them that we're going to have to have a spill. We killed the Bi-Op (Bi-Op is short for Biological Opinion. It's the salmon management plan that has been in the federal court since 1992) and were going to do spill and they went crazy. Then all this went up to the 9th circuit and it was a couple of years before it came back down and the 9th circuit took it at them and followed exactly what I wanted to do and we've been doing it ever since.
So we had collaboration, we had meetings, we spent hours and hours - but there's always the plaintiff that wants it this way and the government that way. And that's not unusual, that's not unusual for human beings.
It makes it sort of easy for a Judge because he can just consider the fish, the law and the Endangered Species Act.
Kunz: What has helped you make decisions in the salmon case?
Kunz: You put a lot of emphasis on spill, allowing water to pass through the dams when juvenile salmon were migrating to the ocean. Based on what we know - has it worked?
The ocean has been very kind and the water has been good and we've got those spills and we've got some hope.
Kunz: Explain the role of dams here in the Northwest.
We do have some alternatives and they've done things with the dams. The spills which they do not like but that has been very helpful…I think we need to take those dams down.
Kunz: Are you talking about all eight federal dams or just the four lower Snake River dams?
It would be very helpful. Trying to take out a dam is not very difficult. It's a lot easier than it is putting them up. You don't just take the whole thing down, you just let the water go around it. You just dig out the ditch and let it go around. And you can't do it all at once. It is very costly but even taking any one dam would be helpful.
Kunz: You threatened to tear down the dams. Who has that authority?
Kunz: You place a lot of emphasis on habitat restoration projects. There are hundreds of them across the Northwest. How important is habitat restoration?
And they had the 4-H when I took it and it was habitat, hydro and so forth. Yeah, it's really important because it has been destroyed and now they are working again very hard now - that is the government - and they really get into the habitat business and I think to avoid more spills, perhaps more habitat would be good. And so they spend millions of dollars to the tribes to do habitat work. We don't know how it is working or how well it's working or how it's working but they are doing that. (The Four H's refer to human activities that harm salmon: habitat degradation, harvest activities, hatchery production and hydropower operations.)
Kunz: Talk about the term best science, what does it mean and how does it play into the salmon case?
What is best science? We know what it is. We know what they need to do. We have to go back to the way it was before the dams. We need to take some of the dams down. That's not the courts to do that. It's to the public to do that and urge the people to do that. But because they don't take the dams down - they've worked on those dams so they've had shoots and spills, very expensive. It's a boom to the fish and the fisheries and it is working really very well considering what we're up against
Kunz: In reading some of your rulings over the years, I sense impatience and even frustration. You wrote that the defendants were treading water and avoiding their obligation under the ESA … what did you mean?
Kunz: Now that you've stepped down from this case, tell us about the new judge - Judge Michael Simon.
I'm happy about what I have done although I know I haven't done enough but there's not much a judge can do but you can raise hell - and I did.
Kunz: Why step down now - aren't we close to a conclusion in this case?
I do think that they will be easier with another judge and this guy is a good judge. And so when the judge goes out in the courtroom and sits down they'll be interested in what his view is like it was for me earlier. But the last few times I worked with them and I was getting rougher all the time I think they would say I'm not going to do anything for that guy.
Kunz: Do you have any regrets?
Kunz: Was there ever a moment where you thought you could finish the case?
Any judge can do it. We don't have to run for election like the poor state judges so we do what we have to do. I'm confidant that will continue very well, getting better and better and better.
Kunz: I read somewhere that you aren't a sportsman, that you don't even like the taste of salmon? Is that true?
I enjoy fishing. It's a lot of fun. I enjoy it. And I like barbecuing it. Howard Horton, again, my scientist. I said how do you make this? He gave me this recipe and it's wonderful and I eat a lot of it and so does Joan with me.
Kunz: Are you an environmentalist?
Kunz: What has been your favorite job?
You know, judges, it's an easy job in the sense of you just follow the law and you can tell lawyers this and federal judges can be very strong about it too because we're not going to have to go to election. But we've got a good federal court in the northwest. Ours is a very good one. I'm proud to be in it and I've enjoyed it. I really have - particularly this crazy case. That's a challenge. I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to what happens.
Kunz: When you stepped away from this case, you didn't say you were retiring. What's next for you?