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Idaho Can Have Salmon and Agriculture

by Travis Jones
Idaho Statesman, May 22, 2011

Spring and the start of the irrigation season for Idaho farmers marks an annual rite of passage that is a wondrous part of our state's heritage which helps define us as a people.

At the same time, oral arguments May 9 in a Portland. Ore., federal courtroom once again bring into sharp public focus the two-decade-long battle over how to best balance salmon recovery efforts against the preservation of Idaho's sovereignty over the water that is the lifeblood of its agricultural economy.

Folks involved on both sides of the issue will tell you the judge's decision later this summer may well mark a defining, watershed moment in our 121-year history as a state. So it is useful to look at how successful Idahoans are in helping to advance salmon recovery.

Perhaps a useful place to start is with some of the fish run numbers, compiled by Idaho Statesman outdoor reporter Roger Phillips in the May 1 Idaho Statesman, comparing the number of fish crossing Lower Granite Dam, the last of the lower four Snake River dams.

The Statesman first compared fish runs in 1975 with those of 2010.

  1975 2010
Chinook salmon 28,460 164,796
Steelhead 27,786 206,885
Sockeye salmon 209 2,201

Then Phillips compared the 10-year average year fish runs between 1980 and 1990 with those between 2000-2010. The result even more clearly demonstrates how the benefits of salmon recovery efforts have begun to pay off.

  1980-1990 2000-2010
Chinook salmon 22,760 82,951
Steelhead 88,289 188,991
Sockeye salmon 80 273

The numbers starkly illustrate the ongoing improvements achieved by Idaho's water user community. Efforts such as the nearly half-million acre-feet of Idaho water to the government every year to help migrating fish; widespread and intensive salmon habitat restoration and improvement efforts at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to Idaho farmers and ranchers; and dozens of special agreements -- including the historic Nez Perce agreement -- that have built a strong network of cooperation are all part of a balanced, holistic approach carefully crafted to advance salmon recovery.

Is it perfect? No. Are we making outstanding progress? Absolutely.

Still, despite two decades of innovation, hard work and sacrifice by Idaho's water users, the radical environmentalist mantra has remained unchanged: tear out the four lower Snake River dams, and "poof." We'll have a salmon nirvana where we will be able to walk across Idaho streams and rivers on the back of trophy-sized salmon.

The "naturalists" continue to conveniently ignore both sound science and the certain environmental catastrophe that would follow as millions of tons of sediment wash down the Snake and Columbia rivers in which U.S. taxpayers have spent $900 million in a channel deepening project meant to increase commerce on the system. An economic calamity resulting from the loss of cheap hydroelectric power and a river barging transportation system would result in thousands of lost jobs.

That philosophy now leaves this group so far outside the mainstream of salmon recovery efforts that they risk relegation to the "flat earth" society.

Salmon and agriculture have been irreplaceable parts of Idaho's core social, recreational and economic value system for more than a century. Idaho's water community has fought hard to protect and preserve both parts and will continue to do so into the future. We do that because the facts show clearly that with good science and hard work we can have both.

Related Pages:
Fish and Farming Can Co-exist, and Here's How by Bill Goodnight, Idaho Statesman 5/22/11
A Free-flowing Lower Snake is Key to Recovery by Bert Bowler, Idaho Statesman 5/22/11

Travis Jones is chairman of Coalition for Idaho Water, in Boise.
Idaho Can Have Salmon and Agriculture
Idaho Statesman, May 22, 2011

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