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Commentaries and editorials

Any Long-term Salmon Solution
Must Represent All Interests

by Rod Sando
The Idaho Statesman, June 9, 2005

Editor's note: U.S. District Judge James Redden -- who rejected the federal government's salmon recovery plan in late May -- will be back in court Friday in Portland to discuss what to do in the short term. His decisions could affect industry, Indian tribes, recreationists, shippers and water users. This week, Idahoans will write about the value of salmon -- and the tradeoffs of recovery.

Judge James Redden's recent opinion creates an opportunity for the region to launch a better course of action than the failed efforts of the past. It would seem that after three tries at the development of a biological opinion we should be in a better position than we are. In fact, not only has the long-term solution the region needs not emerged, salmon politics are now so deeply divided that reaching any negotiated conclusion may not be possible.

We have adequate, reliable science and good technology to implement the solutions to the problems facing the listed species. We do not have agreement on the mix of actions to be implemented. Why? Because the actions needed are not cheap, require water, and everyone needs to make major compromises. We need to arrive at an optimal solution that will achieve fish recovery while protecting key elements of our economy which must include the fishing-based economy. Any permanent solution must fairly represent all interests and meet the requirements of the law. Until that is achieved we will continue to keep the listed species at risk and will squander all the investments to date if we are not careful.

We need a better approach. A colleague of mine refers to the current situation as having evolved from delusion to denial to dithering without decisions. The famous "Four D" model. We were deluded by thinking that we could have it all, in denial about the real effects of developing the hydro system, presently dithering with minor tweaks of river operations and no decisions for large-scale tests like greater spill or pool drawdowns.

It is clear that nothing will change without strong and courageous leadership. Recovery is expensive and cannot occur until we get serious about this. Dithering has led to delay which has protected the status quo but has left the region still at risk of losing significant fish resources. The last thing we need is another biological opinion that comes to the same end as the previous three. It is time to get serious about finding a solution. Difficult decisions must be made and commitments to those decisions need to be honored, because much is at stake for the future of the region. We must continue to maintain a strong economy while recovery is managed and we cannot allow the high level of internal conflict to continue. Leaders of the region have not been strongly committed to making the hard choices, and falling back on spin and mythology to manipulate politics will continue to fail. We need hard-nosed common-sense solutions that are based on a high probability of success.

It is time for the governors, federal executives, tribal leaders, and salmon managers to convene a better process that assists negotiations among the many stakeholders that will provide acceptable alternatives for implementation. Cooperation and collaboration must become the rule rather than the exception it is now if we are to ever work through the complexity of this mess. The time is right for honest efforts because without it we will most likely be faced with no recovery. That would be a legacy of failure. We can and must do better.

Rod Sando is former director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and will retire soon as executive director of the Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Authority in Portland, Ore.
Any Long-term Salmon Solution Must Represent All Interests
The Idaho Statesman, June 9, 2005

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