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ID.statesman.logoMay 30, 2009
Idaho's senior senator says he's willing to wade into the region's most heated issue.
by Rocky Barker
Fresh off his success leading a collaboration on the Owyhee Canyonlands, Sen. Mike Crapo said finding a lasting solution to the Northwest salmon crisis means opening the door to all people and all options. 

And that means a possible solution that he doesn't support must be considered.

"Does that mean dam breaching must be on the table?" he said. "Yes. But that also means not dam breaching must be on the table."

This is the strongest, most public declaration by any Northwest congressional leader that the region should consider removing the four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington that scientists say make it hard for the endangered fish to recover their once plentiful runs.

Crapo's new stance contrasts with a longtime steadfast opposition to dam breaching from Idaho Republicans as well as downstream Democrats.

The issue long has challenged some of the Northwest's most deeply held values. Salmon are a symbol of the Northwest's past, provide food and spiritual sustenance for American Indians and supply a fishing industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the dams provide low-cost power and make it possible for shipping lanes to run to Idaho's Lewiston port.

The powerful turbines they contain and the sun-warmed slackwater behind them, though, can be deadly to salmon smolts swimming out to the ocean to live their adult lives, scientists say.

Idaho's senior senator before Crapo, Larry Craig, was so opposed to breaching that he tried to cut funding for federal scientists documenting dam passage problems.

Crapo, though, now says that he is willing to lead a larger effort to find a real solution. He challenged members of the Northwest Energy Coalition meeting at the Red Lion Downtowner Friday to join him.
Federal officials and three of the four state governors - including Idaho Gov. Butch Otter - say they are already collaborating.

The Bush administration had convened what it called a collaborative effort between federal dam managers, wildlife officials, the region's Indian tribes and the states of Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon to write a salmon and dam plan that would meet a federal judge's approval. Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe did not agree with the plan, called a biological opinion.

And environmental groups, including the Northwest Energy Coalition, fishermen and fishing industry groups, were not included.

Crapo said those groups need to be involved in any solution, along with Idaho water users, shippers, utilities, farmers and industry.

The energy coalition is prepared to participate, executive director Sara Patton told Crapo. So is the group leading the salmon fight - Save our Wild Salmon - said Pat Ford, its executive director.

Crapo's willingness to talk without ground rules on breaching is significant, Ford said: "Obviously that's been a big hurdle in the past."

All sides will have to be patient for a truly collaborative process to work, Crapo said, noting the Owyhee wilderness bill took eight years to resolve.

"I don't think salmon have eight years to wait before we take action," said Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United, one of the groups challenging the federal salmon plan in court. "At the same time I believe this is the only way we are going to get a lasting solution."

Representatives from Idaho Water Users and Otter's office did not return phone calls Friday.

A Bonneville Power Administration official noted that three of the states, including Idaho, and most of the region's tribes had already signed off on a plan.

U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who presides over the salmon and dam lawsuit, has given the Obama administration two months to take a fresh look at the issue before he rules on the plan. Redden urged the administration to put breaching four dams on the lower Snake River back on the table, as well.

Crapo suggested a litigation "time out" would help start a collaboration.

In 1990, as federal officials first pondered listing Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead under the Endangered Species Act, another Republican senator, Mark Hatfield of Oregon, brought all of the region's players together to seek a consensus solution.

The Salmon Summit, as it was called, laid the groundwork for the region's current salmon recovery efforts but failed to find a consensus. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., have both expressed interest in working on a regional effort to find a solution.

"I would think politically it would be helpful if there was Senate support from all four states," Crapo said.


 

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