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Commentaries and editorials

Governors, Don't Keep
Your Salmon Planning a Secret

by Editors
The Idaho Statesman, June 9, 2005

Four governors in the Northwest and four federal agencies have hammered out some ideas about how to save salmon.

What are they and what do they mean to you?

Will they present their plans on Friday, when U.S. District Judge James Redden takes up the salmon issue again? Maybe.

The feds and the states have talked behind closed doors and excluded everyone else with an interest in how to save our rare and valuable wild salmon. This is no way to build trust -- much less support.

Now is the time for the governors to stop playing coy and talk openly with groups with a stake in salmon. That means water users and farm groups; Indian tribes that have drawn spiritual rebirth and sustenance from salmon fishing for centuries; industries that depend on hydropower from the Snake and Columbia rivers; shippers who now rely on Snake River slackwater ports in Lewiston and eastern Washington; and communities that want to bring back salmon fishing and the multimillion-dollar economic haul that comes with it.

None of these groups has been at the table. The governors and federal agencies -- the Bonneville Power Administration, NOAA Fisheries, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- have excluded them. The governors and the agencies Monday reached a framework on what they can agree on, Mike Carrier, natural resources policy director for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, said Wednesday afternoon.

Carrier wouldn't discuss specifics and said some details will need to be worked out with the tribes and other groups. "It's not complete in all respects," Carrier said. The governors' staffs are talking now about how and when to roll out the plan.

Friday may be the day.

Redden, who rejected a federal salmon plan May 26, will hold a hearing then to discuss whether to impose tough short-term rules to protect salmon.

Then again, the governors may release their plans before Redden's hearing, or after, Carrier said. The negotiators haven't been focusing on the short run, so their ideas may not be germane to the short-term legal issues on Redden's docket. "We're talking about a long-term vision here," he said.

While misapplied to a secret process, the negotiators' sense of urgency is justified. Snake River chinook and sockeye salmon were added to the federal endangered-species list in 1991 and 1992. Far from recovering, the fish continue to struggle; this year's chinook returns to Idaho are down dramatically, and no one is sure why. As a region, we have proved far more adept at arguing over salmon than we have at preserving them.

Governors have disagreed among themselves, taking different sides in court on the feds' salmon plan. Idaho supported the plan and its inadequate goal of preventing Idaho fish from drifting closer to extinction. Oregon sided with the fishing groups and environmentalists who successfully sued to have the plan tossed out.

Agreement among the four Northwest states -- Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana -- is a step in itself. But since the states have been talking in a vacuum, it will be more difficult for them to earn support from groups on the outside looking in. And the longer the governors keep a lid on their plan, the more they risk undermining the product of their discussions.

Governors, Don't Keep Your Salmon Planning a Secret
The Idaho Statesman, June 9, 2005

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