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Commentaries and editorials

Craig Rider Would
Halt Salmon Studies

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, June 24, 2005

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho is getting a third branch of government involved in the salmon versus dams debate.

The senator has added language to an appropriations bill that would remove funding from a center that studies fish passage on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Some think the senator is also poised to attach a rider to the same bill that would overturn U.S. District Court Judge James Redden's spill order at Snake and Columbia river dams.

When asked about the spill rider, Craig's spokesman did not deny the senator is working on such language but also would not say a rider is coming.

"It's safe to say all the cards are still on the table and Larry hasn't ruled that option out," said Dan Whiting, Craig's press secretary at Washington, D.C.

Whiting went on to complain that the federal agencies involved with salmon recovery have spent years analyzing the best way to get fish through the dams only to have their recommendations overturned in court. The agencies consider Redden's spill order a risky experiment.

"All the agencies that have to manage salmon have to follow (the National Environmental Policy Act) and all the other environmental laws, and the judge doesn't," he said.

In May, Redden overturned the government's biological opinion that said the hydropower system on the Snake and Columbia river dams does not put threatened and endangered salmon at further risk of extinction. Earlier this month he ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration to spill water at Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and McNary dams to help juvenile fall chinook reach the ocean.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes it is best to collect juvenile fish at the dams and ship them to the ocean on barges. The agencies appealed Redden's order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and lost.

Salmon advocates have said for the past week they believe Craig is considering legislative action to address Redden's order. Bert Bowler of Idaho River's United at Boise said he would welcome a full debate in Congress on salmon and the Endangered Species Act.

"But doing a rider just to overturn the judiciary is foul play in my opinion and the fish stand to lose."

Craig and other members of the Water and Power Subcommittee have already added language to an appropriations bill that could remove funding from the Fish Passage Center at Portland, Ore. The center collects and disseminates information on salmon and steelhead runs and is funded as part of BPA's Fish and Wildlife Program. The language suggests the center's duties could be shifted to public universities in the Pacific Northwest.

The Fish Passage Center also analyzes the data it collects and has been accused by some of being biased against dams. Whiting complained some of the facility's analysis was recently entered as evidence by environmentalists in their lawsuit that led Redden to overturn the government's biological opinion and order the spill.

"The Fish Passage Center has long been criticized for not being an objective source and if it's going to be a source of advocacy rather than objective science then they should find funding elsewhere."

Bowler, a former biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said the center does produce good science but the results are not always welcomed by power utilities and dam supporters.

"They don't like the things they post," he said. "It gets into the wrong hands, like us, then we use it in court."

The information is all made public, said Bowler. "They are as objective as you can get and it's out there for everyone else to analyze."

The language was added to the Senate's Water and Energy Appropriation Bill, which would fund agencies like BPA for the next year.

Eric Barker
Craig Rider Would Halt Salmon Studies
Lewiston Tribune, June 24, 2005

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