Idaho Doesn't Have What it Takes
by Marti Bridges, Idaho Rivers United
The State of Idaho over the past decade has shown that it has neither the political will, nor the political leadership to protect its watersheds or recover Idaho's wild salmon, steelhead and native resident fish species. While Fed-bashing and chest pounding play well on tom Brokaw, C-Span and in the halls of the Idaho legislature, Idaho's politicians and politically appointed agency directors have failed to move us closer to preserving and protecting the biological diversity of our state or that of the Pacific Northwest. In a nutshell, we simply don't have "The Right Stuff!"
To date, we have no salmon recovery plan; we have the "Bookends" Plan. That plan is predicated on the concept that one "bookend" will consist of no flow augmentation, a proven conservation tool for fall chinook salmon recovery. The other "bookend" is the "no dam breaching" parable.
Governor Kempthorne is expected to issue his own "salmon plan" sometime soon. Conspicuously absent from the plan is scientific input by Idaho's won Fish and Game Department. The plan is being drafted by an attorney and a former director of the Idaho Farm Bureau.
Idaho has over 600 streams that are so polluted they are listed on the Clean Water Act 303(d) list and due for cleanup plans to be written within the next five years. Already we are behind and will likely fail to meet the court approved eight-year timetable for water quality plans to be in place. Senator Crapo has introduced a water quality bill in Congress that would further weaken environmental protections and recvery measures under the Clean Water Act by postponing implementation of the EPA's new water quality rules.
Idaho doesn't have a single water body designated as an Outstanding Resource Water (ORW) despite the fact we are home to eight federally recognized Wild and Scenic Rivers which include the pritine Middle Fork Salmon, Selway, and Lochsa Rivers. Idahoans have gone before the Idaho legislature at least three times in the past ten years to gain such protections. We will go forth again this year.
The Idaho Water Resource Board, a constitutionally authorized board, has made a mockery of the state minimum streamflow program with only 400 miles protected. The IWRB often fails to implement its own policy and guidelines on Idaho's 1700 miles of state protected rivers. The Idaho Department of Water Resources has approved illegal water right diversions and issues questionable stream channel alteration permits on several rivers.
The Governor's office, Idaho Department of Water Quality and Idaho Department of Fish and Game has failed to implemement the state's bull trout recovery plan. We've done absolutely nothing to protect habitat and water quality to prevent future listings of Yellowstone cutthroat or protect Westslope cutthroat. Why? Because the Idaho legislature and governor fail to fund these much needed protection and recovery measures.
Does Idaho have what it takes? I see little evidence that Idaho has what it takes. Idaho's political leaders, much as the rest of the Northwest's leaders with the notable exception of Governor Kitzhaber have failed miserably to offer vision and leadership. The recent Corps hearings proved there is overwhelming support by the public for breaching the four lower Snake River dams to recover Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead. 80 percent of Idahoans supported dam removal in oral testimony at Idaho's public hearings. It's a shame Will Stelle and the National Marine Fisheries Service think more of the same will recover salmon and protect watersheds.
Idaho's politicians continue with the same rhetoric and offer the same meaningless recovery measures. States rights are a hollow cry. The reality is that Idaho has failed to step up to the plate. Without profound federal intervention, neither Idaho nor the Pacific Northwest seems capable of crafting real solutions that protect watersheds or recover wild salmon.
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