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Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho,
Salmon Response

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

U.S. Senator from Idaho Larry Craig, Republican

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

Let's start with some perspective here. The biological opinion issued by the Clinton Administration in 2000 also was negated by this same judge. So, these are not partisan political issues. They are complex issues about how to approach the hundreds of difficult scientific and management questions regarding what is best for salmon recovery in our region.

The 2004 biological opinion is based on the best science available to the experts involved. It includes all of the significant protections for fish that existed under the prior opinion and adds additional measures. I was disappointed in the judge's decision and his injunction order because there are real questions about whether the court's direction will help fish, but there is certainty that it will result in higher electricity prices and place an unjustified burden on the shoulders of ratepayers in the Northwest. Congress should, and I believe will be interested in that issue and take whatever action it deems an appropriate response to those concerns.

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

First, we should define our terms. The comprehensive recovery plans for salmon in each sub-region of the Northwest that will cover impacts to their habitat, hatchery practices, harvest impacts, and hydropower measures are yet to be released. We hope to see those later this year. With respect to the 2004 biological opinion on how to operate the federal Columbia River power system, there are several aspects that warrant mention. Again, it builds on prior efforts and knowledge by incorporating the measures that have worked and calling for further tests of new measures that have great promise. One of these new measures is something called a removable spill weir that is designed to assist juvenile fish in their downstream migration without the negative impacts that spilling large volumes of water over the dams can have on them. Another enhancement in the 2004 biological opinion was a larger commitment to the control of the voracious predators, such as pikeminnow or Caspian terns, that eat large volumes of salmon in the lower river.

A drawback to the plan is the large cost. At $600 million per year, the biological opinion is an enormous undertaking for ratepayers and for taxpayers at the federal and state level. Our region will need to watch these measures carefully and insist that they are as cost-effective as possible. Being committed to salmon recovery should not mean spending larger and larger amounts of the people's funds without accountability for real results.

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?

Spill is a technique by which dam operators attempt to flush juvenile fish over the dams to move them downstream. Other methods involve bypass systems and barges that move the fish around the dams. The drawbacks to spill are that it is relatively violent and can increase the gas content in the water which can harm juvenile fish. More and more, scientists are finding that spill can negatively impact the adult fish trying to make their way back upriver. Whether the increased amount of water spilled over this summer will help boost salmon survival rates is inconclusive at best. The people of the Pacific Northwest deserve to have policy built on sound science, not speculation. Of course, the other drawback, in light of the inconclusive biological benefit to the spill, is that it is extraordinarily expensive to electricity ratepayers whose utilities must buy higher priced power to replace the amount lost from water spilled over the dams rather than run through turbines.

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?

No. This theory that increasing flow can somehow solve this issue has been floating around for many years without scientific basis. You will hear the simplistic statement, "fish need water." Of course, but that misses the point. In any given year we have only the amount of snowpack and precipitation that nature provides. At the same time, the Columbia River system is massive. Attempting to impact the speed of that water moving downriver using water from Idaho, and spreading that effect over hundreds of river miles, and mixing that effect with numerous other factors influencing the fish has not proven beneficial and, frankly, stretches credulity. Of course, the impacts to Idaho farmers of such proposals could be devastating at a time when they are trying to allocate limited water resources for irrigation.

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

Congress has a responsibility to see that all expenditures are essential and used wisely. The public is fed up with increased fees and higher taxes that don't bring results or benefits. The Fish Passage Center is an agency that was created over 20 years ago to provide technical expertise to regional salmon managers. Since that time they have grown in mission and in budget to become a $1.3 million agency that takes on an advocacy role in controversial salmon management issues. In fact, three other entities have had to provide oversight responsibilities to try to control the actions of this one agency. In looking at the FPC we found that the viable technical functions overlapped significantly with those already being performed at universities in the region. With limited budgets, the region needs to continue to find ways to stay efficient while minimizing redundancies. (see question 7).

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?

Your question misstates the current state of the science on the issue. Every now and then we see a letter signed by a number of fisheries scientists who are advocates of dam breaching. Then we see that letter refuted by a number of scientists who believe breaching would be ineffective or even harmful to fish as 75 million cubic yards of silt from the dams moves down river. The key federal agencies and experts under both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration concluded that breaching was not in order. These are complex species that travel thousands of miles and spend most of their lives outside of the portion of river containing the mainstream dams. Many of the runs have returned in record numbers in recent years because of the change in ocean conditions, because of better technology at the dams, and because of actions in habitat mitigation. Let's apply some common sense here - if dams were the primary cause of fish depletions in the Columbia and Snake rivers, good ocean conditions would not have mattered. Any effective strategy for full recovery must address the issue comprehensively in those key areas and in the areas of better hatchery and harvest practices.

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?

In fact the economic impacts have been studied in depth. One serious look at the issue came as part of the comprehensive study of options regarding the Lower Snake River completed in 2002 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It showed enormous impacts to power production, navigation and irrigation. It also showed that breaching would cause a significant increase in pollution from the replaced power production sources and from the replaced transportation sources. More to the point, when you talk with folks in Lewiston, they tell you very directly about the job losses they would see from that proposal.

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?

We will have to see how the parties to that lawsuit position themselves. We will also have to see whether the final order gets appealed by the federal defendants. The basic questions there were legal in nature. Those legal questions cannot change what does or does not work to recover fish. The federal, state, and tribal agencies along with private citizens throughout the region are already engaged in an enormous effort to recover these species that will continue regardless of the views of a particular judge.

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?

Salmon and steelhead are important species to our region in many different respects. But, this idea in your question of pitting fish against people, salmon versus jobs, or salmon versus power, sets up a false choice. Salmon can and do flourish alongside humans and alongside the navigation, flood control, power production, irrigation, and recreation provided by the hydropower system in the Northwest. This is a fortunate fact in that, at least in the foreseeable future, the 11 million residents of our region may only grow in number. More realistically, the fundamental issue is fish versus fish - wild versus hatchery; anadromous versus resident fish. A small number of advocacy groups have argued that the river should be managed exclusively for wild runs without regard to resident fish, nor with any real plan for the use of hatchery fish in the system. Further, in recent years, natural changes in ocean conditions have created changes in fish survival that dwarf any impacts humans have on the fish. I make note of that not to minimize the effort needed here, but to acknowledge that we do not have entire control over the results of those efforts. Until regional biologists and fish managers agree on the appropriate level, manner, or use of hatchery fish, we really won't have a 'recovery plan.' Our region must come together and define what success will be on salmon recovery - we need a defined goal. If we don't have a defined goal, how can we develop a recovery plan? We're wasting time; we're wasting money. Frustration is palpable. We need clear goals and objectives; with measurable performance objectives and accountability built into the process. We don't need to throw money at redundant data collection programs like the Fish Passage Center; nor do we need to foment more debate that dam removal will be the 'silver bullet' solution.

Your paper could play a much more productive role in educating the public about what is really at stake, how science needs to give us more solutions instead of controversy, and how solutions will not be found in the courts.

Regardless, a massive salmon recovery effort will continue in the Northwest, and I will continue to fight in the Senate for funding for that effort. But my success will be largely dependent on how serious and credible the region's commitment to salmon recovery is perceived by the rest of the nation. I fear that the perception is getting less and less favorable. To some, it appears that the issue is more important than a solution. If that perception becomes widespread, I fear the means to continue effective salmon recovery efforts will dry up. Let's ensure that does not happen.

Idaho Statesman Questionnaire
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, Salmon Response
The Idaho Statesman, August 7, 2005

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