Salmon and Steelhead
Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne
The recovery of Idaho's anadromous fish is one of the most difficult issues facing Idaho and the Northwest.
The salmon seem to defy every attempt at easy solutions. We have pursued the recovery of these fish with the wealth of a nation, and have little or nothing to show for it -- except polarization of the very people who must build the consensus to save it.
As Governor, I will continue the work I started in the Senate to restore these magnificent species. No reasonable suggestion to recover the salmon should be ignored. First, we must face the facts:
Idaho habitats for spawning salmon and steelhead remain among the best available throughout the Columbia/Snake River system. I will remian diligent in our inventorying, monitoring and management of our upstream habitats to assure they remain available for restored stocks. Feeding, resting and predator avoidance habitats must be available for fish preparing to migrate.
Since the first large hydropower dams were put into the Columbia/Snake River system in the 1930's we have provided for effective upriver migration of fish. But it is only recently that we have begun to explore the best way to move out-migrant fish past the dams. Promising new technologies may soon allow us to move away from transportation and spill as ways to move fish downriver.
At every location in the river, predation on young fish has increased, and resting and predator-avoidance habitats have declined. Throughout the downstream journey to a point below Bonneville Dam the young fish face a barrage of predation. Squawfish, walleyes, gulls, terns, cormorants, seal lions and seals gather to eat vast quantities of smolts. Even huge numbers of introduced shad and other fish compete for food and space.
In particular, the man-made dredge spoil islands below Portland have become the site of the world's largest Caspian Tern colony. A colony that by one estimate eats up to 40% of the smolts moving downstream. In the meantime, coastal colonies of terns have been abandoned in favor of the river island sites.
Our operation and management of the hydropower system is just now being modified to benefit salmon and steelhead while continuing to provide the electrical energy we have come to depend upon. We are learning that water conservation and shaping of flows to provide the best possible in-river conditions allows us to avoid wasteful spill and flush scenarios.
Idahoans will do our part to save salmon, but we will not impoverish our State or our people doing it. Water is the lifeblood of Idaho and the Governor can take no other position than the zealous protection of that resource. If the federal government determines it wants water for salmon, let them use what they already own, or buy what they need.
From the estuary, and on out to sea, things seem to only get worse for these ocean-going fish. Only recently have scientists begun to pierce the veil of darkness that prevents us from understanding the ocean phase of their life cycle. Older tagging techniques such as fin-clipping and bar code tagging are gradually being supplemented with PIT tagging and genetic marking. We are just beginning to apply new technologies and peer-reviewed science to better understand management options and conditions.
There are a number of processes in place in the region right now that will provide information and data to help find essential answers to a number of questions raised by our increased understanding of the life-cycle needs of the salmon and steelhead. Several of these processes address the effects of the hydropower dams on our regional resources, and on those few fish stocks that have fallen under federal jurisdiction through the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws. However, most of the regional resources such as water, resident fish and wildlife, and the many unlisted anadromous fish stocks remain the jurisdiciton of the States.
The major issue receiving federal attention at this moment is the cry for dam breaching. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Drawdown Regional Economic Workshop (DREW) is a process to evaluate the socio-economic impacts, benefits, feasibility and potential environmental consequences of three alternatives:
Most attorneys know that when they enter a court of law, they must prove their case "beyond a reasonable doubt." Systematic use of the best available scientific method and established planning processes will soon tell us the best management options available to us. Throughout the region, however, there remains considerable doubt about the wisdom of breaching the dams.
Whatever these and future studies show as the most biologically sound and cost-effective method of recovering salmon and steelhead, it is estimated that engineering work and environmental studies alone could take five or more years to complete. And, once the lawsuits have been settled and Congress finally authorizes and appropriates money for the federal part of the solution, you might just be looking at several decades.
I don't want to see any further decline in our abundant natural resources. I don't want to see even one stock of salmon or steelhead go extinct. And most of all, I don't think we can stand around and argue while wating for a single draconian measure to be implemented. Beginning now, our States, and our region must keep our own house in order. We must seek cooperative, regional solutions to our natural resource issues that involve all of our citizens and all of our industries and economy.
So, what can we do right now to benefit the salmon? There is a long list of positive measures that we should implement immediately. I will:
The goal on any public policy measure should be to recover sustainable populations of fish without devasting the local and regional economies. The key to the success of that is to end the polarization that has existed and work to build consensus not only in Idaho, but within the region as well. I look forward to this opportunity.
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