Drive to Save Salmon
by Patricia R. McCoy, Idaho Staff writer
BOISE -- Those who want to save salmon are often lumped together as environmental groups, but a lot of business and economic interests are involved as well.
The drive to save Idaho’s salmon runs needs to be seen in that context, said Pat Ford, with the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.
“Salmon fishing was this region’s largest economy for 100 years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was the founding economy of the Northwest,” Ford told the Idaho Environmental Forum.
“We can’t recreate that, but there could be a $500 million to $600 million industry with from 10,000 to 11,000 jobs based on salmon if we could restore abundant, harvestable runs to the region. That should be Idaho’s goal. That’s what Idaho needs,” he said.
Ford was one of five panelists discussing the national policy and local impacts of the efforts to save salmon runs. Other panelists included Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association, who challenged Ford during the question and answer period between the panelists that ended the discussion period.
“When we see all these lawsuits filed over water and salmon management; we look at Klamath, Ore., and the silvery minnow cases in New Mexico,” Semanko said. “We’re fearful that municipal and irrigation water could be shut off. We’ve seen a lot of writings from you and others who have filed these lawsuits saying you don’t want to dry up Idaho water. Will you instruct your attorneys to submit in writing to the court a statement that you’re not seeking injunctive relief that would include shutting off irrigation water?”
Ford refused to make such a commitment, saying, “My organization doesn’t litigate.”
However, Ford then said the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition is engaged in litigation over operation of the 10 Upper Snake dams and related cases.
“I consider it unlikely that we’ll seek such injunctive relief in 2004, but there’s no commitment beyond that that I can make at this time,” he said to Semanko.
Other speakers at the Jan. 21 forum included Bill Sedivy, Idaho Rivers United, who said salmon advocates didn’t create Idaho’s water crisis.
“Idaho rivers are pumped dry each year. The problem has been building for years,” Sedivy said.
He also stressed that water users and farmers aren’t the real cause of the salmon problem.
“The real cause is the four Lower Snake dams. Removing them will give Idaho salmon an 80 percent chance of recovery. Unfortunately, Idaho officials aren’t willing to do that. That leaves salmon advocates playing a litigation card we don’t want to play,” he said.
The Idaho Attorney General’s office is in the middle of the whole controversy, caught up in trying to find a balance between salmon and other water needs, said Clive Strong, deputy attorney general.
“Unfortunately society is polarized, and caught up in litigation,” Strong said. “I don’t believe that’s the way to get to a long-term solution. Instead, it’s going to lead to another round of process and paralysis. We have to come together as a community, look at the issue from a broad perspective, and find a way to resolve our differences.”
The final panelist was John Hoehne, aide to Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who hosted closed-door talks trying to find a resolution to the issue outside the courts. Those talks ended when a group of environmentalist organizations filed suit anyway in early January.
“Many factors are responsible for the decline of the fish runs,” Hoehne said. “The four Lower Snake dams may be partly responsible, but that doesn’t mean we have to breach them to resolve it. We need to move forward and find ways to solve the issue, not fighting for advantage. That doesn’t really get at a solution for the fish.”
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