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Commentaries and editorials

F&G Chief Speaks Up
Courageously on Salmon

by Editors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, October 12, 2004

Give state Department of Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker credit for speaking his mind on the federal government's questionable salmon recovery plans.

Let's hope this sets an example. Idaho's hunters and anglers and its wildlife are best served when Fish and Game experts talk openly and candidly about the threats facing our irreplaceable resources.

(Jeff T. Green) Some 2.3 million fingerling chinook salmon are raised at the Lyons Ferry Fish Hatchery on the Snake River near Starbuck, Wash., each year, and are released into the waterways. The Bush administration is threatening the long-term future of salmon, an icon of wild Idaho that could support a multimillion-dollar fishing season in small towns such as Riggins, Salmon, Challis and Stanley. The administration has an ill-founded plan to count hatchery fish and wild fish to decide whether salmon deserve federal Endangered Species Act protection. The whole idea is "politically expedient," Huffaker told a group of sportsmen in Lewiston last week.

"It just seems to me to be a grab for numbers," Huffaker said.

We agree. Hatcheries can certainly boost the numbers, raising fish that support angling seasons and preserve fish genetics. Beyond that, though, hatchery science remains unproven. Hatchery fish just aren't as hardy as wild fish; hatcheries cannot replicate the unique behaviors that enable salmon to survive their remarkable voyage from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean and back.

It's dangerous to pin recovery too heavily on hatchery-raised fish. While Northwest salmon runs have gone up in recent years, scientists say ocean conditions have been highly favorable.

Not only is Huffaker right about the science, he is right to speak up. Fish and Game has a clear job: preserving the fishing and hunting opportunities thousands of Idahoans enjoy. Sometimes, that means raising legitimate concerns at times that are less than politically ideal. A month before a presidential election and weeks after saying he plans to go to the GOP-dominated Legislature next winter with a plan to raise hunting and fishing license fees Huffaker probably isn't doing himself any political favors by coming out against a plan from a Republican administration.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne has spoken in the past about the need for Idahoans to speak with "one voice" on resource issues. He has established his own division, the Office of Species Conservation, to take the lead on the state's behalf on endangered species issues. Still, we would prefer to hear a real give and take about the future of Idaho's wildlife.

F&G Chief Speaks Up Courageously on Salmon
The Idaho Statesman, October 12, 2004

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