Gore Pledges a Salmon Summit
by Joel Connelly and Charles Pope
RICHLAND -- Vice President Al Gore, echoing Bill Clinton's promise of a forest summit in 1992, yesterday pledged he will "bring together all interested parties" if elected president to work out a comprehensive solution to the crisis over survival of Northwest salmon.
The salmon summit would be designed to resolve such hot-button issues as the proposed breaching of four dams on the Snake River and, in Gore's words, prevent extinction of salmon while avoiding what he called "sweeping economic upheaval."
Gore delivered his proposal after taking a jet boat ride on the Hanford Reach National Monument, designated yesterday by President Clinton to protect the only undammed stretch of Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and the Canadian border.
Clinton signed proclamations yesterday creating four new national monuments to protect 440,000 acres of sensitive federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
The 51-mile Hanford Reach is home to the last great wild chinook salmon run in the Columbia River, and Gore described salmon as "crucial" to the well-being of the Pacific Northwest.
"If we allow their extinction, we endanger the environment, the economy and a whole way of life in this region," Gore said in a speech at the Tri-Cities campus of Washington State University. He pledged to devote "heart and soul" to finding a solution if he wins in November.
On another environmental issue, Gore also pledged his "full support" for a campaign aimed at using both federal dollars and private donations to acquire 75,000 acres of privately owned forest land in the Central Cascades. The plan includes old-growth forests on which logging is imminent.
With Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush targeting Washington, Gore yesterday put in a 14-hour day, with stops in Richland and Spokane marking his first venture east of the Cascades since the 1996 campaign.
Clad in blue jeans, he struck a Washington-crossing-the-Delaware pose in the jet boat of Richland outdoorsman Rich Steele, who has campaigned since the mid-1960s to save the Hanford Reach.
After changing into a suit on the plane, Gore courted Democratic donors at a $5,000-a-head luncheon at Seattle's Columbia Tower Club, helping raise $400,000 for the Democratic National Committee. Bush raised $1 million last month with three fund-raising events at the same locale.
Gore spoke to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was guest at a fund-raiser for Gov. Gary Locke and then flew to Spokane for a speech to a state Democratic dinner.
Last night, Gore brought hundreds of Democrats to their feet.
"I need you to fight with me," he shouted over the roar of the crowd. "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and organize."
But earlier in the day, the vice president received periodic reminders of how hot issues can be for an incumbent administration.
In Pasco, demonstrators carrying signs that read, "Don't Gore our Dams," greeted Gore as he arrived in the Columbia Basin. A critic of the Hanford Reach decision held up a sign saying "Make Puget Sound a National Monument."
Conservation activists savored protection of the free-flowing stretch of Columbia River, but said they expect any salmon summit to restore the free flow of the Snake River. The Snake River's salmon runs have dwindled from 200,000 to a few thousand in the past 30 years.
"If you look at both science and economics, the obvious conclusion is to remove the four dams," said Brady Bennon of Save Our Wild Salmon.
Asked what a President George W. Bush should do about the Hanford Reach National Monument, Brenda Alford, a Pasco farmer and Franklin County Republican chairwoman, replied: "Overturn it. From my understanding, an executive order can be overturned by another executive order."
Congress has occasionally changed national monument boundaries, but no president has ever tried to reverse a designation made by his predecessor.
The 1906 Antiquities Act gives the president authority to create monuments. It was first used by President Theodore Roosevelt, who protected the Grand Canyon and Olympic Mountains and designated 16 other national monuments.
Clinton has now created nine national monuments, protecting more land in the lower 48 states than any president in history.
But Republicans in Congress have stepped up efforts to curb the conservation-minded president.
A Senate committee Tuesday approved a GOP-backed bill that would make it much harder to create monuments. Under the bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, an area could be designated a monument only if it is subjected to a full-blown environmental study and then approved by Congress. The full Senate is expected to consider the bill this summer.
In the House, Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, is sponsoring legislation that would block any money from being spent to develop management plans, improve visitor services, enhance protections or undertake other activities at monuments created since 1999.
The White House has denounced Hansen's provision, saying it "would surrender our environment to special interests."
At the Columbia Tower Club, Gore presided over a gathering that included prominent former supporters of his challenger for the Democratic nomination, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.
Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, the first elected official to back Bradley, was asked if he is enthusiastic about backing Gore. "We have no choice," Schell replied, arguing that Gore is better for cities than Bush.
Schell later indicated that the Justice Department's suit against Microsoft, and a federal judge's order that the Redmond-based company be split apart, is not helping the Democratic ticket.
"It's not helping him (Gore) that you have the federal government taking apart one of our major businesses out here," Schell added.
Gore's pledge of a salmon summit echoes a promise made by Clinton in 1992 when he visited the home of a loggers' family in Springfield, Ore. He promised to hold a summit to resolve the lengthy legal impasse over logging of federal lands in the Northwest.
Clinton and Gore held a summit in April 1993 in Portland, and later came up with a plan that sharply curtailed -- but did not eliminate -- logging of the region's national forests.
As Gore dealt with vexing issues, he spent at least some time in the company of a happy man.
After years of fighting proposals to dam and dredge the Hanford Reach, and irrigate fragile slopes nearby, Steele was delighted that the long battle is apparently at an end.
"I'm not a tree hugger," he said. "I believe in private property rights. But I also believe in public property rights, the right of the American people to enjoy a place like this."
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