Salmon and the Endangered Species Act: Lessons from the Columbia Basin

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Greg D. Corbin, J.D. 1999, Lewis & Clark Law School

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Washington Law Review

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Wash. L. Rev.


In the 1990s, the Columbia Basin--once home to the world's largest salmon runs - witnessed numerous listing of its signature natural resource under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Those listings propelled the ESA into the forefront of land and water use decisionmaking across a vast landscape of the Pacific Northwest. This article examines the Columbia Basin salmon listings and their aftermath. Specifically, it considers the effect of the ESA's consultation requirements on hydroelectric, hatchery, harvest, and habitat decisionmaking. The article draws several lessons from this examination, many of them surprising, including the assertion that while the listings produced many innovations in the implementation of the statute, they led to few improvements in the condition of the listed salmon, due partly to the persistent sensitivity of the consultation process to economic concerns. The article concludes that this reluctance to disturb existing activities damaging the salmon runs does not bode well for the continued existence of the most imperiled of the species, including the Snake River runs.

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