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'Four H' Paper Nets a Variety of Reactions

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune - November 17, 1999

Salmon recovery just got a lot bigger, but the road to recovery remains as dangerous and uncertain as ever.

The federal agencies charged with the responsibility of recovering endangered salmon and steelhead runs unveiled their much-anticipated "Four H'' paper Tuesday.

The paper includes a full range of options for saving salmon including, but not limited to, dam breaching. Harvest restrictions, reductions in the number of hatchery steelhead released in Idaho rivers, improvements in habitat and flushing more water of southern Idaho's rivers all were named as possible solutions.

The federal agencies failed to single out any one measure in the paper but said any salmon recovery prescription would include a combination of efforts involving all four of the so called Hs -- harvest, hydropower, habitat and hatcheries.

That could mean there will be plenty of pain to go around.

"If there is one thing this paper made clear to Idahoans, we have to make some hard choices," said Scott Bosse of Idaho Rivers United. "Are we going to defend our steelhead industry, are we going to defend our water, are we going to (tolerate) more restrictions on logging, mining, grazing and river rafting, or are we going to coalesce around a plan that can prevent those things from happening? Clearly that plan has to include dam breaching."

Some hatchery reforms could mean severe reductions in the releases of steelhead smolts in the Snake River Basin and that in turn would affect the state's sport fishery. Federal biologists fear the hatchery-raised fish might be competing with threatened and endangered wild salmon and steelhead as well as breeding with wild fish and reducing their fitness.

But Ed Bowles, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said elimination of steelhead raised for sport harvest would not be a viable or even a likely salmon recovery measure.

"I really don't think that is a serious threat because I don't see any scientific basis to that threat," he said.

Nonetheless, the option is on the table as is increased flow augmentation from southern Idaho reservoirs, an idea many thought was long dead.

Bowles said flow augmentation just won't work because putting more water in the river will not sufficiently increase velocity. Slackwater behind the dams slows juvenile salmon on their way to the ocean.

"There is no way flow augmentation can provide the conditions that these fish evolved and prospered under," he said.

Potlatch spokesman Frank Carroll believes the National Marine Fisheries Service is moving toward what he sees as the right decision, which is exhausting every viable option before it pursues dam breaching. But he also believes the agency is going too far in an attempt to get everybody to sacrifice something for the fish.

"I believe they'll take some punitive steps that sort of make everybody pay for doing the right thing. I believe they'll announce some fairly draconian flow augmentation steps with southern Idaho's water."

He also fears further restrictions on up river habitat, such as 500-foot logging buffer zones along creeks and streams that feed salmon and steelhead producing rivers, could be on the way.

Many salmon observers were frustrated that the paper did not indicate a clear direction that salmon recovery will take.

"The feds are the largest land owners in the basin, the owner and operator of the hydro system and the largest owner and operator of hatcheries and they didn't tell us one thing that they are going to do," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. "We need action and leadership from the federal agencies."

However, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was not concerned about a lack of direction from the federal agencies. He said it's now up to the state and the region to decide what the best course of action will be.

"I think everybody realizes they have to bring something to the table and ultimately there has to be a regional concurrence."

Many of the options, such as dam breaching, reductions in tribal harvest or elimination of mitigation hatcheries cannot be ordered by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Because of that, Will Stelle, regional director of the agency, said the region must reach an agreement on the best way to proceed.

"A long-term, durable and effective salmon recovery effort in the Columbia River Basin must ground itself in a regional commitment," he said.

The role of his agency will be to provide the best science so the region can engage in an honest debate.

by Eric Barker
'Four H' Paper Nets a Variety of Reactions
Lewiston Tribune, November 17, 1999

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