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Idahoans Speak Out in Support of Salmon

by Rocky Barker
The Idaho Statesman, February 24, 2000

With federal law mandating that salmon be saved,
the debate over how to do it moved to Boise on Wednesday

Idahoans turned out by the hundreds Wednesday in support of salmon.

An estimated 1,200 people attended two sessions at the Boise Centre on The Grove to talk about federal plans for recovering endangered salmon and steelhead. None of the dozens who testified suggested allowing the endangered ocean-going fish to go extinct. But the agreement ended where it has for the past four years — over whether to breach dams on the Snake River to save the fish.

Environmentalists, anglers and people in salmon-related businesses rallied at the Capitol, paraded down 9th Street and dominated the testimony, saying no plan will save all of Idaho’s endangered salmon without removing the earthen sections of four dams on the Snake River in Washington.

"If we lost the salmon, I would submit that the cost of not breaching is too great," said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

Others — including most of the political leadership of the state — testified that the dams shouldn’t be breached until other methods such as increasing predator controls, screening irrigation diversions and improving fish bypass systems at the dams are tried.

"Let’s be candid: Breaching the dams is no immediate solution for the fish," Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said. "It’s guaranteed to be tied up in the courts and in Congress for at least a decade."

The hearings were conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on its environmental impact statement for improving salmon passage through the Snake dams in Washington. The National Marine Fisheries Service and seven other federal agencies also took comments on their

"All-H" plan to improve conditions for salmon throughout their life cycle.

The H’s refer to the four general areas of human-caused salmon problems: hatchery practices, habitat degradation, harvest and hydropower.

So far, federal officials have not expressed a preference for any of the alternatives. They have urged regional officials to take the lead. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber came out Friday insupport of breaching the dams.

Wednesday in Olympia, Washington Gov. Gary Locke strengthened his opposition to breaching.

Kempthorne reiterated his opposition to breaching by handing the officials a box of petitions with 80,000 signatures of people from around the Pacific Northwest opposing breaching.

"Their views, their jobs, their families, their communities must not be ignored in this decision," Kempthorne said.

But residents of Riggins, the Salmon River community whose economy now depends on steelhead and salmon, also want their voices heard. Nate Hollingsworth, a steelhead guide, said additional habitat restrictions won’t make much difference for Idaho’s endangered fish.

"By saving the Salmon River and the Frank Church Wilderness, this state has gone the 9 yards, and now it’s fourth and 1 and time for a first down," he said. "No punting. Breach the dams."

Others took aim at the very harvest on which Riggins depends.

"If the salmon are an endangered species, why are we killing them?" Phil Brown, a golf course manager in Lewiston, asked rhetorically.

And Rep. John Sandy, R-Hagerman, recalled when Indian fishermen "speared, chopped and grabbed what appeared to be every fish" along Bear Valley Creek in the 1960s.

"Man is a predator and should be the most easily managed," Sandy said. "Irresponsible behavior must not be tolerated, both on the headwaters and in the ocean."

That brought a quick and angry response from Beatrice Miles, a Nez Perce elder. She recalled the bloody history of the tribe’s ejection from its homeland and the destruction of buffalo herds and salmon runs.

"Everything was perfect until the Caucasian came," she said.

By the end of the evening, federal officials estimated 1,200 people had been through the displays, testified or simply listened. Proponents of breaching outnumbered opponents only slightly, in part due to the strong opposition expressed by Idaho legislators.

Yet voices from both sides urged serious efforts to find common ground on the issue.

David Foruria of Middleton doesn’t support breaching dams, but he wants to fish for salmon again.

"We have to learn to come together as one," he said.

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, neither endorsed breaching nor opposed it. He does oppose increasing river flows by draining more water from Idaho reservoirs, called flow augmentation.

"Many of Idaho’s elected officials have drawn a line in the sand on this issue; no breaching and no flow augmentation," he said. "Drawing a line in the sand gives people false hope that nothing needs to be done with water or dams."

He joined the call of environmental groups for development of a detailed plan to offset the effects of salmon recovery, whether on communities such as Lewiston if dams are breached or southern Idaho if additional water is taken.

Jennifer Scott, a Timberline student, said she wants her children to have the experience she has had, watching salmon spawn in the South Fork of the Salmon River. And she urged federal and state officials to consider the implications of their actions or inactions.

"We have to live with the decisions you make today," she said.

Rocky Barker
Idahoans Speak Out in Support of Salmon
The Idaho Statesman, February 24, 2000

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