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Cooperation Key to Salmon Recovery

by Staff
Capital Press, January 28, 2005

For farmers or ranchers who have been threatened with the loss of irrigation water or the use of valuable land along a salmon stream, salmon is one of the most controversial and frustrating issues they face.

So why did Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski take up the banner to protect salmon in his State of the State speech?

In his message to the Oregon Legislature, the governor came out swinging against the Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion on the survival of salmon in the Columbia River system.

“I intend to take a hard line on the current biological opinion,” the governor told the legislators. “This dispute is about two words: survival and recovery. The federal government wants to turn its back on its previous policy of recovering salmon to levels that sustain social, economic and ecological benefits – and substitute the lower standard of making sure that salmon simply survive.

“This is wrong – and if I cannot compel the federal government through negotiation to do what’s right, I will use every legal tool the state has to change survival back to recovery. That includes becoming a plaintiff in this case,” he said. “And believe me – if we join the suit we will not be a potted plant!”

Though the governor seems to declare war in his speech, his natural resource policy adviser, Jim Myron, told the Capital Press the state was merely keeping its legal options open when it said it would file a 60-day notice that it would sue over the biological opinion.

“We’re still hopeful we can work something out with the federal government short of litigation,” Myron said.

To keep the state’s options open is prudent public policy. If the governor of Oregon really believes the federal government is inadequately managing the Columbia River salmon, then Kulongoski needs to get together with federal managers, and then negotiate what he believes to be the best plan he can. Only as a last resort should the lawyers be called in.

Oregon’s role in the salmon biological opinion litigation is not a new one, Myron said. It began in 2001 under the administration of former Gov. John Kitzhaber, when the state filed an amicus brief in the case that challenged the adequacy of the previous federal biological opinion.

What worries the Kulongoski administration is that the federal agencies have “changed the ground rules” and said the biological opinion doesn’t have to address the recovery of Columbia River salmon, only prevent it from becoming extinct, Myron said. The state has presented a variety of recovery options to the federal agencies, and Myron said he anticipates discussions about them with the federal agencies will take several weeks.

Only after those discussions are over will the state consider further legal action, he said.

But during the course of those discussions the governor should not forget about the tens of thousands of Oregonians – including farmers and ranchers – whose jobs and livelihoods depend on the power generated by those dams, the irrigation water and the transportation options they provide. He should not allow himself – or his environmental supporters – to be swept away by the rhetoric of fish over all else.

Protect the farmers instead.

Federal managers have an extremely difficult job. They try to responsibly balance the biological needs of fish with the economic needs of the region.

That balancing act is made much more difficult when the threat of legal action hangs over it.

Cooperation, not coercion, will be the key to developing a plan that is both salmon-friendly and farmer-friendly.

Cooperation Key to Salmon Recovery
Capital Press, January 28, 2005

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