In the category of things - like the debt ceiling settlement - that can be interpreted in various ways, include the Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland on salmon recovery and the steps needed to ensure it.
The terms "Redden" and "salmon" have been tied together tightly for a long time, back to the 70s when he was Oregon attorney general and since 2000 as a judge. There's been a reliable pattern ever since: Federal agencies and a number of other regional issues (often including state governments and various other organizations) submit salmon recovery plans, and Redden declares them inadequate. This has been particularly irritating to people who defend the four lower Snake River dams in southeast Washington, which have been targeted as major blocks on salmon runs.
Redden is no less a salmon defender today than he ever was, but a clean reading of his new ruling, the latest in a series - while not bringing an end to the case, as some people had hoped - does seem to point the way to a direct conclusion without massive regional uproar.
The plan seemed to give a general approval to much of the federal plan. He says up front that "Federal Defendants have failed, however, to identify specific mitigation plans to be implemented beyond 2013. Because the 2008/2010 BiOp's [biological opinion] no jeopardy conclusion is based on unidentified habitat mitigation measures, NOAA Fisheries' opinion that FCRPS operations after 2013 will not jeopardize listed species is arbitrary and capricious."
Otherwise, he seemed to continue along the lines of his earlier rulings - in terms of their substance. But the sense of the decision seemed to indicate a sharp narrowing of subjects under serious dispute. As an indicator, Redden seemed to leave much of the proposal in place through 2013.
The end could be near.