Crapo's Push for Salmon Should be a High Priorityby Editorial Board
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, May 8, 2001
It's been a long time -- too long -- since someone in Idaho political leadership stepped up as an advocate for the state's salmon.
Sen. Mike Crapo took just such a step last week, pushing for a needed increase in federal funding for salmon recovery. The question isn't just whether he can get support in Congress, but how much help he gets from the rest of the Idaho delegation.
The $360 million Crapo is seeking would not ensure salmon survival.
But at the very least, it would ensure federal agencies do as much as they can for salmon -- working down a recovery checklist that might, or might not, lead to another look at breaching dams on the lower Snake River.
We still disagree with Crapo on the dam breaching issue. We have advocated breaching since 1997; Crapo maintains that salmon can be restored while keeping the dams intact.
Currently, Northwest political leadership is on Crapo's side. But if the federal government is not ready to breach the dams, even though many biologists believe it's the only way to recover Idaho salmon runs, then it needs to try everything else.
"Sitting around and doing nothing is not going to be an alternative," Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said Monday.
The increase, from $314 million to $675 million, would put money into a menu of projects pushed by federal agencies, from a host of funding sources. Projects would include renovations at hatcheries and dams, and compensating farmers and ranchers who improve spawning habitat.
The money would also keep the science honest.
As Crapo points out, the salmon debate divides on a basic disagreement: Some say nothing short of breaching will bring back the fish, while others say the feds should try everything short of breaching.
Taking an anti-breaching tack requires that you try all other recovery options available. Give Crapo credit for being willing to put some money behind that philosophy.
The rest of Idaho's congressional delegation should work with Crapo to secure the money. But the initial reaction from Idaho's senior senator, fellow Republican Larry Craig, is less than enthusiastic.
Craig spokesman Mike Tracy said Crapo has come up with an "intriguing package" of recovery ideas, concepts Craig has supported . But Craig isn't sure where the $360 million will come from, and wants to make sure it doesn't come at the expense of other Idaho projects.
"I think that's where the difficulty lies," Tracy said.
Nothern said Crapo's plan has gotten a more enthusiastic response from Oregon's congressional delegation.
When it comes to helping recover Idaho's salmon, Idaho leaders need to work together. It's the only way the fish will swim upstream politically.
And don't be fooled by this year's salmon numbers. The fish are heading into tough times.
More than 92,000 spring and summer chinook salmon are heading back to Idaho this year, aided by high flows in 1999 and ideal ocean conditions. But those big runs are heavy with hatchery fish.
Meanwhile, this year's low water has Idaho salmon heading into what environmentalists are calling a "migration massacre." In 2003, this year's 23-year high in salmon returns will be just a distant memory.
That's all the more reason why Crapo's funding push is timely -- and should be a priority for the entire Idaho delegation.
As the salmon of 2001 head downstream into a drought-induced disaster, the imperiled fish need all the political friends they can get.
In Crapo, the salmon have at least one Idaho ally. But like the fish themselves, Crapo could use some help.
Biological Opinion - Federal Salmon Plan
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