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Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho,
Salmon Response

by Idaho Statesman Questionnaire
The Idaho Statesman, August 7, 2005

Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, Republican

1. Do you support U.S. District Judge James Redden's recent decision to overturn the Bush administration's biological opinion for salmon?

Judge Redden's decision was disappointing for many reasons, including his dismissal of states' efforts to improve salmon habitat and numbers.

Should Congress try to invalidate Redden's ruling?

Congressional action or drastic administrative action under the ESA may be necessary. Dam operators must operate the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) in a manner consistent with the ESA.

2. In your view, what are the merits of - or shortcomings within - the Bush recovery plan?

We must make the distinction between recovery planning done by the regulatory agencies under the section 4 of ESA and the 2004 Biological Opinion, which is an analysis by regulatory agencies of the management plans drawn up by action agencies that may impact listed species under section 7 of the ESA.

Under the 2004 BiOp, the National Marine Fisheries Service reviewed the proposed actions of the federal agencies and determined that those actions did not jeopardize any listed species under its interpretation of the ESA and the court's previous decision. We believe that the NMFS analysis was sound. The judge disagreed.

Currently, recovery plans for many species are being developed. For some of the species, these plans will be released decades after their listing. It's a shortcoming inherent to the ESA. Recovery planning must occur as soon after listing as possible to provide direction for recovery efforts. The purpose of the ESA is to help species recovery and remove the need for federal protection, not to simply draw attention to a species in decline.

3. In your view, what are the merits - or drawbacks - of spilling water from the lower Snake River dams and McNary Dam to aid fish migration?

Spilling water is an untested experiment. For example, spill had to be reduced to 30 percent at Little Goose to help adults pass the dam, despite the judge's order for more water. More information is necessary before the merits of spill can be determined.

Unfortunately the court interrupted studies that were gathering information on the issue.

4. Should additional water from Idaho be used to speed up the flow of water in the Columbia/Snake river system to aid fish migration, as some fish advocates have suggested? Why or why not?

There is an inadequate amount of water in Idaho to impact flow on a constant basis. Under the Nez Perce Agreement there are provisions to help fish passage at appropriate times, primarily during migration, by providing 427,000 acre/feet of water and an additional 60,000 acre/feet when it is available. We should see how this works before we jump to conclusions about additional flows.

5. Should Congress eliminate funding for the Fish Passage Center?

Whenever tax dollars are used there should be accountability. We need to look at the return on the public's investment and determine whether funds are better spent on the ground, for monitoring, or further studies.

6. Most fisheries biologists say breaching the lower Snake River dams gives Idaho salmon their best - and possibly only - shot at recovery. Yet at this time, no prominent elected official in the Northwest advocates breaching. What are your concerns about breaching, and do you believe there is any way to mitigate those concerns?

There are many other aspects to the issue of salmon recovery besides dam breaching that should be considered. In addition to dams, we must also consider the impact of harvest, habitat, and hatcheries if we are going to find a lasting solution. It is hard to advocate breaching with the record returns we've seen in recent years and fisherman on the river in Salmon, Idaho for the first time in 30 years.

7. During a recent congressional field hearing in Clarkston, Wash., Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., questioned why the region hasn't studied the economic impact of breaching the lower Snake River dams. Would you support such a study?

No. The funding for such a study would be better-spent on habitat improvement, reducing predation, or studying the impacts of harvest and hatcheries on fish numbers.

8. Redden's most recent ruling also came with a call to action for Northwest elected officials, federal agencies, industry, tribes and fish advocates: negotiate a settlement to this issue. Can the Northwest realistically negotiate an agreement on salmon? Do you support an open and inclusive negotiation process where all options are on the table? What would be your personal role in brokering an agreement?

Litigation has resolved nothing. Years in the courtroom have polarized the parties and prevented progress. We can continue to sue each other or we can agree on a starting point and move forward. That starting point and result, however, cannot include breaching the dams.

Idaho has already been at the table and future negotiations would be a natural outgrowth of our previous discussions.

9. The question of salmon recovery ultimately becomes a question of values: saving the fish vs. protecting interests such as hydropower production, irrigation and inland shipping. Where do you personally place the value of wild salmon recovery against these other interests?

There is no reason we cannot have both. Part of the reason for our limited success on this issue stems from our inability to see that we can restore these fish populations to levels that do not require listing under the ESA and protect economic interests at the same time. Framing the debate as a choice between the two has caused the polarization that exists today. We can do both and we should.

Idaho Statesman Questionnaire
Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho, Salmon Response
The Idaho Statesman, August 7, 2005

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