Congressmen, Business Owners
by Times-News and Associated Press
KETCHUM -- The federal government's new salmon plan hinders Idaho businesses and the environment, says one local business owner.
That's why he's pleased that a group of 102 congressmen -- Democrats and Republicans -- sent a letter to President Bush this week urging him to revise the new plan for salmon.
"I feel really strongly that bringing back wild salmon to the Sawtooth Valley would be a benefit both ecologically and economically," said Andy Munter, president of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum.
Last month, Munter was among 400 business owners who asked Congress to consider funding economic studies to determine the costs and benefits of removing four lower Snake River dams.
The administration's plan for salmon, which was released in September, states that dams do not pose a threat to the existence of salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake rivers. In their letter to Bush, the congressional group outlined their concerns.
"For too long we have treated the Columbia River and its tributaries like a machine," said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., in a statement. "We can no longer enact policies that result in the status quo for the river and the fish and wildlife species that inhabit it."
The congressmen said in the letter the government had lowered its goal from recovery of the fish runs to merely preventing extinction.
The plan, or biological opinion, released by the government states that dams will not threaten salmon and steelhead runs as long as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers follows through on a plan to install salmon-passing weirs at each dam. The devices will cost $6 billion over the next 10 years.
"The whole thing is such a step backwards," Munter said. "It's almost laughable."
Judge James Redden of Portland, Ore., found the government's 2000 biological opinion and salmon recovery plan to be illegal, saying officials could not reasonably assure the recovery actions they outlined would occur.
That opinion did find the dams to be a threat to the continued existence and recovery of the fish. It outlined hundreds of measures, from hatchery reform to habitat restoration, that needed to take place to mitigate for the number of fish killed by the dams.
Although the 2000 plan did not call for breaching four dams on the lower Snake River, it did say breaching should be considered if the other measures fell short of saving the fish. The new plan includes no breaching provisions.
"I fully expect the judge to make them throw it out," said Munter, who also sits on the board of Idaho Rivers United.
The draft opinion does not ensure self-sustaining and harvestable fish populations, the congressional letter says.
"Rather than settle for a biological opinion that redefines the problem instead of fixes it, we urge you to direct federal agencies to revise this draft to ensure significant recovery of salmon and steelhead," the letter reads.
Lawmakers who have signed the letter include Tom Petri, R-Wis., Peter De Fazio, D-Ore., Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash. The House has 435 members.
The letter also highlights the economic benefits of healthy salmon and steelhead runs. The salmon fishing industry brings about $3 billion to Northwest communities each year, the lawmakers claim in the letter.
Munter believes Idaho is losing not only environmental advantages but also economic gains in keeping the dams in place. Last week, Idaho Rivers United delivered 85,000 postcards to the president protesting the salmon plan. Roughly 5,000 of the postcards were from Idahoans.
"If we had a healthy salmon population in the valley, people would come here from all over the world," Munter said.
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