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Latest champions for Northwest's salmon

In separate actions, a federal judge and a US appeals court say the government's plans to save the fish are inadequate.

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Uncle Sam is getting hammered in federal courts for failing to protect endangered salmon, the totemic icon of the Pacific Northwest.

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday rejected the Bush administration's water diversion plan for the Klamath River in California and Oregon because it does not protect the river's coho salmon, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Just a few days earlier, a federal judge in Portland, Ore., said he has had it with failed attempts to recover wild salmon (not to be confused with the hatchery fish) headed toward extinction in the vast Columbia River Basin, an area the size of central Europe.

After what have been years of trying and failing, and more than $1 billion spent on recovery efforts, US District Judge James Redden gave federal agencies one year - not the two years they had asked for - to come up with a plan that actually works. And he raised the specter of tearing out mammoth hydroelectric dams in the Columbia-Snake River system - which could dramatically alter key parts of the region's economy, particularly the agriculture and shipping industries - if they don't succeed.

"The government's inaction appears to some parties to be a strategy intended to avoid making hard choices and offending those who favor the status quo," Judge Redden wrote. "We are all aware of the demands of other users of the resources of the Columbia River and Snake River, but we need to be far more aware of the needs of the endangered and threatened species."

If the hydropower dams were to be breached, much less electricity would be produced, which may raise the price of power and make it more expensive for wide segments of the economy in the West.

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