the film
Commentaries and editorials

Not All Players Anteing Up
in Northwest Salmon Stakes

by Dirk Kempthorne, Idaho Governor.
Guest Comment, Capital Press, October 14, 2005

Half a decade ago, the governors of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington released a landmark series of consensus policy recommendations for the recovery of salmon and steelhead in the Northwest. Our clear guidance called for a multifaceted effort across all of the Hs -- hydro, harvest, hatcheries, habitat, and even humans.

As the only participant in that historic process still in office, I am dismayed by the lack of progress that has been made by federal agencies on implementing that vision. More than a decade after salmon were listed, most protected stocks in Idaho still have no federal recovery plan, which would provide necessary direction for determining success. Proceeding without federal recovery plans is like running a race without a finish line -- it is a frustrating and reckless expenditure of time and resources.

One area that we have done well in is habitat.

Despite the lack of direction from the federal level, the state of Idaho, on its own initiative, has led the way in protecting and reestablishing salmon habitat through the purchase of 90,000 acre/feet of water from eastern Idaho's Bell Rapids Project for $22 million, the establishment of minimum stream flows in the Salmon River and its tributaries, and over 100 successful conservation projects in the Upper Salmon and Clearwater river basins in central Idaho.

I'm disappointed that innovative ideas like these have not been replicated in the other areas.

The burden of salmon recovery should not be placed solely on the backs of any single stakeholder group. Throughout Idaho and the region we need to commit to equitable and sensible sacrifices for recovery.

I believe today, just as I did five years ago -- if we are truly serious about recovery, we need recovery plans with concrete recovery goals that fully embrace and address all the Hs.

The reality is that we have spent a lot of money to improve passage at the dams -- and we have seen some success in increased salmon returns. But we can and should do more. We need to continue to apply today's best minds and invest in technologies that improve passage at every dam on the Columbia and lower Snake rivers.

Another reality is that harvest -- specifically commercial harvest -- has been largely ignored in recovery plan discussions.

Impacts of this harvest on Columbia River salmon must be evaluated and its impact on recovery determined.

How can Idaho justify its continuing sacrifices for salmon if it only amounts to increased ocean and downstream harvests prior to achieving recovery? Commercial harvest of listed species is simply counter-intuitive to recovery. Pacific salmon are the only threatened or endangered species that we harvest. Why is that?

If we are serious, we have to reduce commercial harvest and give these fish a chance to reproduce and contribute to recovery. If that means compensating the commercial fishing industry we need to consider that.

We should also look at increased coordination and cooperation across political boundaries when it comes to hatcheries.

There are 225 individual salmonid hatchery programs within the U.S. portion of the Columbia River Basin. These include tribal, state and federal programs.

Their ongoing operation represents a significant annual commitment from the region as well as a tremendous opportunity for the future of the species -- they should contribute to both recovery and mitigation.

Hydropower, harvest, hatcheries, habitat, and humans -- if we are committed to salmon recovery, all of these things must be part of the path forward. Our solution must be biologically sound, economically viable, and politically palatable. We must get recovery out of the courtroom and on the ground, so that we can move forward. Otherwise, the next 10 years will be like the last, and we will look back on little progress despite a great investment of time and resources.

Dirk Kempthorne is the Republican governor of Idaho.
Not All Players Anteing Up in Northwest Salmon Stakes
Capital Press, October 14, 2005

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