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NW Governors Jointly Propose Salmon Strategy

by Jonathan Brinckman
The Oregonian, July 26, 2000

Gov. John Kitzhaber and his peers outline a breakthrough results-based program

SALEM -- Reversing two decades of fighting over water use and bickering about salmon decline, Gov. John Kitzhaber and the governors of Washington, Montana and Idaho on Tuesday issued a joint call for complete accountability and results-based actions in Columbia Basin salmon recovery efforts.

Their salmon agreement is a first among the four states and requires significant change in a costly and largely ineffective effort to restore healthy populations of salmon and steelhead to the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Chief among the governors' proposals:

The governors' pact represents a commitment to restructure a $4 billion, 20-year effort in which there were no benchmarks for measuring success or failure and there was division among Northwest states on how to best proceed. It is a significant victory for Kitzhaber, who four years ago called publicly for a joint position on salmon recovery by the four governors.

"This is a victory of regionalism over parochialism," the governor said. "It represents the first regional consensus -- at least on the part of the governors of the Pacific Northwest -- on a meaningful plan to benefit the restoration of the Columbia River ecosystem."

The report sidestepped whether to breach four federal dams on the Lower Snake River, an action endorsed by Kitzhaber but strongly opposed by the three other governors. While it did not recommend dam removal, it did not preclude further consideration of it.

"We are keenly aware of the extent to which breaching the four Lower Snake River has become a polarizing and divisive issue," the governors wrote. "Regardless of the ultimate fate of the dams, the region must be prepared in the near term to recover salmon by acting now."

On Tuesday, the agreement was announced first in Boise and then in Salem, each time by Kitzhaber and Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne. Montana Gov. Marc Racicot participated in the Boise announcement by telephone, and a representative of Washington Gov. Gary Locke participated in both.

"The strength of what we are doing today is the fact that we are doing it together," Kempthorne said. "It is far better for us to do this regionally than to let Washington, D.C., tell us what should be done."

The pact comes two days before the National Marine Fisheries Service is to unveil a federal plan for restoring salmon in the Columbia Basin. A White House official last week disclosed that the fisheries service plan will not call for immediate breaching of Snake River dams.

Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the fisheries service, called the governors' agreement Tuesday key to salmon recovery. "Clearly this is very good news," he said. "If they continue to bicker among themselves, we will never get anywhere."

Liz Hamilton, director of the Northwest Sportfishing Association, said conservationists will be disappointed that the plan does not call for dam breaching. Still, she called it significant.

"They each accepted something that is very, very difficult for each of them and for the citizens of their states," she said. "This is the governors showing, by example, that if people do not put sacrifices on the table, salmon are not going to be recovered."

For Washington, which uses 61 percent of the electricity sold by the Bonneville Power Administration, the sacrifice was leaving alive the possibility of breaching dams. Larry Cassidy, chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council and a Washington representative, said Locke signed because he wants the states to move ahead in areas they agree on.

"We didn't want to sit around and wait," Cassidy said.

Kitzhaber compromised by signing an agreement that does not endorse dam breaching and calls for cuts in sport and commercial fishing levels. For Racicot and Kempthorne, the pain is in recognizing that releasing their valuable water must be part of the recovery strategy.

Kempthorne said he signed because the plan calls for scientific investigation into whether increased river flows really help salmon.

"This is a very sensitive issue in the state of Idaho, where that water is coming from," Kempthorne said. "What is significant is that we have the three other governors agreeing to scientific analysis."

Jonathan Brinckman
NW Governors Jointly Propose Salmon Strategy
The Oregonian, July 26, 2000

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