When Simpson Talks, Idaho Ag Industry
by Bruce Newcomb
"We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them
to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness." -- President Ronald Reagan
For those who know me, there are few things in this world which I feel more passionate about than Idaho agriculture and water. Both have been cornerstones of my life since I first drew breath and the political career that has largely defined the second half of my life.
Those who know me also know that among my most cherished friendships is the one I share with Congressman Mike Simpson. I have considered him one of my best friends and closest political allies since we served in the Idaho legislature together beginning in the late 1980s.
I've watched with interest as Mike rolled out his energy, salmon and economic revitalization plan earlier this year. I also watched the reaction to it, particularly in the agriculture and water user community. I'll be honest, both the rollout and the reactions have left me disappointed.
So let me start by saying that Mike Simpson cares as much about Idaho agriculture and water as I do. He hasn't just voiced his support, he has proven it through countless policy wins. Whether it was serving on the House Agriculture Committee during the dramatic re-write of the Farm Bill in 2002 or as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee today, Mike Simpson has fought harder on behalf of Idaho agriculture than any elected official in this state. Period. End of story.
He's secured untold millions in agriculture research funding for our state and its growers. He's successfully defeated those who would gut the sugar program or sought eliminate grazing on federal lands. He saved the Dubois Sheep Experiment Station from both Democrat and Republican attempts to close it down and he secured a once in a generation forestry reform package that has allowed a massive increase in forest management, saving timber lands and grazing habitat. As if that weren't enough, he single-handedly delisted wolves.
So when I hear people call Mike Simpson a traitor to Idaho agriculture or a sellout to environmentalists, I know those aren't serious people and I know they don't know Mike Simpson. Mike Simpson cares deeply about our state's agriculture industry and has its best interests in mind in all that he does.
My disappointment in the rollout of his plan is that it didn't initially focus on the benefits to Idaho agriculture, energy consumers, communities and more. Instead, it understandably focused on saving salmon -- a noble goal but as I read the concept, there is far more in it for agriculture and water users than salmon.
Beyond the folly of spending tens of billions more on fish mitigation and aging dams for little return on investment, our current practices have other consequences. They include:
Perhaps this happens in my lifetime, but worse yet, it happens in my children's lifetime and they are left with nothing to show for it. Is that the agriculture legacy we want to leave for our children?
With all of that and much more in mind, I encourage my friends, former colleagues, neighbors and fellow Idahoans to take an Idahoan's approach to this important issue. Be thoughtful. Listen to all sides. Show respect toward one another. Don't pre-judge anyone's motives. Learn from one another. And, ultimately, engage in the discussion.
As President Ronald Reagan said, "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done."
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