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State Challenges Federal Salmon Strategy

by Mark Warbis, Associated Press
Idaho Statesman, October 26, 2000

Idaho lawmakers say recovery plan makes some incorrect conclusions

Idaho's objections to what it considers the federalization of salmon recovery efforts in the Northwest are at the core of the state's responses to government plans for saving the regions anadromous fish runs.

"We are very concerned, and we've stated as such, that our state water law needs to be respected," Michael Bogert, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's legal adviser, told the Legislature's joint interim committee on natural resources issues Wednesday.

Bogert said the goal of comments recently submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies was to "simply educate the federal government about what it's like to be an Idahoan," and what tools the state already has available to help reach recovery goals.

He and Deputy Attorney General Clive Strong briefed lawmakers on the state's official response to the government's proposed strategy, released in July, for saving 13 stocks of salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In two lengthy documents prepared in cooperation with the departments of Fish and Game, Water Resources and other agencies, the state makes the case that the impact of recovery efforts on humans must be added to the government's focus on addressing the effects of habitat, hatcheries, harvest and hydropower.

Idaho understands the need for action in the areas of habitat, harvest and hatcheries, no matter whether Congress ultimately decides four lower Snake River hydropower dams should be breached, according to the state's response.

"But Idaho continues to question whether more water needed by Idaho irrigators and municipalities should be spared to satisfy an unsubstantiated biological benefit," the state said.

That point was made more directly in the document challenging the premise and scientific assumptions of a draft biological opinion, which concluded that the way the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation operates reservoirs in the upper Snake River Basin significantly impacts salmon survival.

The Fisheries Service said more water stored in Idaho reservoirs should be dedicated to augmenting downstream flows and helping fish migration. But the state said the way the Bureau of Reclamation operates its storage system has no significant impact on meeting Fisheries Service flow objectives, especially compared with the federal system of Columbia and lower Snake river dams.

"Flow augmentation from the upper Snake River is not an effective tool for salmon recovery because it is capable of producing only small changes in river velocity in the migration corridor, with correspondingly small benefits to migrating salmon and steelhead," the state's response said.

A final version of the biological opinion is expected to be released in mid-December.

The draft documents, which critics called far too vague, called for improving habitat by removing barriers to fish passage, increasing water in streams and rebuilding riparian areas along waterways to improve conditions for fish.

According to the plan, hatcheries would move from concentrating on producing large numbers of fish for release to minimizing harm to wild stocks and collecting wild eggs and raising them to release as smolts.

The strategy also called for capping harvest rates on protected species at current levels and increasing the amount of water spilled over, rather than run through the turbines of, the 29 federal hydropower dams.

The strategy did not call for breaching the lower Snake River dams, but did recommend developing the engineering studies to prepare for breaching sometime in the future if other options fail to meet recovery goals.

Link information:
Federal Caucus:
Idaho Comments of Draft 2000 FCRPS BiOp
Same article without bold text above:Spokesman Review edited

Mark Warbis, Associated Press
State Challenges Federal Salmon Strategy
Idaho Statesman, October 26, 2000

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