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Commentaries and editorials

Bones of Contention

by Bill Cope
Boise Weekly, March 11, 1999

James McClure (you might remember him… he used to be somebody) has declared the breaching option to be “politically unviable.” A dead duck. Lost in vested-interest space. Egg-stinct!

Ix-nay on the breaching, says McClure, because… well… I guess mostly because McClure says so.

The once-upon-a-time senator is currently serving as Mister Because-I-Say-So for a new gang in town—Idaho United for Fish and Water (aaaah, don’t you feel better already?). The coalition is most notable in that it includes no group or organization—not a one—with any history of giving a hoot in hell for the survival of Idaho’s anadromous fish.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be impressed. Heck, I’m sure James McClure doesn’t come cheap.

This “political unviability” of breaching the lower Snake dams seems to be the new mating call for Idaho establishment birds. It used to be, “Wait ’til the science is in, chirp chirp!” Then the science came in, and those folks who want you and whatever future generations you might generate to keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off their water didn’t like the news, which now amounts to a decisive body of evidence that, if the fish are to be saved, those dams gotta go.

But understand this about Idaho establishment birds. They always fly off the handle as a flock, automatically assuming that what’s good for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, for instance, is good for Boise Cascade, is good for the Cattlemen’s Association, is good for Idaho Power, and visa visa visa versa. On matters anti-environmental in particular, they line up in support of one another like starlings on a telephone line.

Now, as the moment for making a final decision draws nigh, they ask that everyone in the state flutter on line with them. About the time Jimbo McClure announced that the most scientifically sound plan for saving the millions-of-years-old salmon runs just won’t do in our current, oh-so-important political and economic climate, another hired mouthpiece—one Sherl Chapman, head bird of the Idaho Water Users Association—offered in a Statesman guest editorial the proposition that if every voice in Idaho isn’t singing the same tune, the “feds are going to pick clean our scattered bones of contention.”

In another monument to self-interest over posterity, the Times News of Twin Falls, which took the editorial position that Idaho’s salmon runs aren’t worth rescuing, maintains that “Idaho needs a unified political strategy for responding to the Endangered Species Act and its threats to our economy.”

Then along comes Idaho United for Fish and Water. United —get it?

Fish people, start your lawyers. Salmon advocates, sharpen your tongues. Sportsmen, man your soap boxes. If you don’t squawk up now, loudly and clearly, as the Borg say, “you will be assimilated.”

One piece of advice: Don’t waste any squawk on local leaders. We already know that the Idaho political machine—comprised of an eight-legged/one-brained beast we send to Congress, plus a governor, plus a small herd of well-fed hamsters who meet for three months every year in Boise to discuss the best way to kill campaign finance reform—are against breaching the lower Snake dams.

But outside of Idaho, who listens to the Idaho political machine, anyway?

There are 260-plus million other Americans out there, and when the word “Idaho” comes up in casual conversation, how many of them think “land of brilliant politicians,” do you suppose? Nope, if those 260 million other Americans ever think about Idaho at all beyond the baked-potato level, they think of mountains and streams, wildlife and wide-open spaces.

Herein lies the dilemma for the locals. It’s gonna be the feds who make the final decisions on how best to save the fish, not them. Our governor isn’t going to do it, our hamsters under the Capitol dome aren’t going to do it, and our piddling congressional delegation will be a mere four votes out of hundreds on the matter.

It’s going to be decided on a national scale, and well it should be. Neither the rivers, the water in the rivers, nor the fish in the water belong exclusively to any small clot of sticky fingers who call this good state home for no other reason than to bleed it dry.

So why should policy makers for a nation of 260 million souls, each of whom has a share in this, lose any significant sleep over what Idaho’s politicians think oughta be done?

I know I don’t… and I live here.

Squawk loud and squawk long, fellow fishheads. The salmon can’t afford public relations talent of the James McClure caliber, so you and I must be their little fishy voices.

But let us squawk to the right people. Let them know back east, down south, and up north-way that Idaho is more than a collective of drones who entertain themselves by watching a few wheat barges sail off into the Pasco sunset. Let them “pick clean our scattered bones of contention” if they must, for if we allow the fish to go without a good fight, maybe these old bones don’t deserve a decent burial.

by Bill Cope
Bones of Contention
Boise Weekly, March 11 1999

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