Associated Press

The federal judge who has rejected three different federal government plans for balancing wild salmon against Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams is taking himself off the case.

U.S. District Judge James Redden sent an e-mail to lawyers Tuesday saying he has asked that the case be reassigned.

Redden gave no reason for stepping down. He is 82 and has taken on a reduced workload for some time.

Redden has been a champion for wild salmon and the Endangered Species Act, said Pat Ford, executive director of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of conservation groups that brought the litigation soon after salmon started going onto the threatened and endangered species lists in the mid-1990s.

Redden's 2006 order that water be diverted from turbines to spill over dams and help young salmon migrating to the ocean is his top contribution, resulting in increased returns of wild and hatchery salmon alike, Ford said.

Neither Ford nor Will Stelle, northwest regional director of the NOAA Fisheries Service, expect a new judge to take a course significantly different from Redden.

"He already laid out the roadmap for us," Stelle said. "We will follow that roadmap."

The new judge will be deciding just how that roadmap will be followed. Salmon advocates have challenged the latest NOAA Fisheries progress report on salmon restoration.

Redden rejected salmon restoration plans, known as biological opinions, from three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama.

Last August, he ruled that the Obama administration's update of the last Bush plan was too vague to meet the demands of the Endangered Species Act. Redden added that he didn't think habitat improvements alone would do the job, and said it was time to consider new options, including removing some of the dams. He left the plan in force through 2013, when a more specific plan is due.

Born in Massachusetts, Redden served as a hospital medic in the Army during the occupation of Japan after World War II. After law school in Massachusetts he brought his family to Oregon sight unseen, starting his practice of law in Medford. He served as a Democrat in the Legislature and as state attorney general before being appointed a federal judge by President Jimmy Carter.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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