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Save Our Wild Salmon


Obama must lead stakeholders toward a fair system

by Cecil D. Andrus, guest opinion
Thirty years ago, I helped President Jimmy Carter resolve a complex controversy of national importance: Alaska lands. The result wasn't perfect, but Alaska and America moved forward with benefit to people and lands, economy and environment. Finding ways for people who disagree to move forward together is one purpose of governing. 

Today Western states are caught in another complex controversy of decades running: salmon recovery on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The loss of salmon, and lack of resolution for fishermen, farmers and energy users, are hurting people and towns from California to Alaska. As with Alaska lands in the 1970s, it is time for governing. I am encouraged by the Obama administration's problem-solving bent, and so I offer my perspective.

Soon the U.S. District Court in Portland will decide if the last Bush administration plan for endangered Columbia/Snake salmon is, like its predecessors, illegal. The court doesn't need this non-lawyer's advice, but given the track record of the plan's authors, I think there's a good chance the court will reject it and that it won't work even if accepted. When salmon policies don't work, many people in the salmon states don't work, and unproductive combat continues.

Whether the plan is ruled illegal or not, the Obama administration must chart a way forward to sound salmon policy. The previous administration's policies failed on three counts: federal courts repeatedly found them illegal, sound science was ignored and squelched, and key contending parties were wedged apart rather than brought together. I believe these failures had a common root: resistance to changes at the federal Columbia Basin dams.

The new administration's first steps must be to make salmon policy lawful again by complying with the Endangered Species Act, and to let good scientists, like those in my old Interior Department, work without interference to set the foundation. President Obama's support for scientific integrity is just the ticket because compliance with the law requires sound, honest science.

Then, a negotiated Columbia Basin settlement that works for fishermen, farmers, energy users and the towns that depend on them all must be forged. It won't be easy or perfect, and everyone must give as well as get. It can't be dictated, but it must be led, by the administration.

Members of Congress must help, and on that there is good news. New Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, and new Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican, both put their personal views aside while campaigning last year and offered to help bring contenders together to find solutions that work well enough for everyone. They have offered to help govern.

I hope the administration takes this bipartisan opportunity. Because good salmon policy is good jobs policy, it fits the president's focus on the economy. All the salmon states except Idaho and Alaska voted for him; people want him to lead and are ready to do their part. A negotiated salmon settlement won't be easy, but continued failure will be much harder.

Cecil D. Andrus was U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1977 to 1981, and governor of Idaho for 14 years before and after his time in Washington, D.C.
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