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Governors Need to Send a Message: Salmon Matter

by Editors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, June 4, 2003

The Northwest’s governors can be champions for our salmon, our natural heritage and our rural communities.

Or they can be naysayers who protect a status quo that doesn’t preserve salmon.

When the region’s four governors meet Thursday in Boise, they have a chance to assert that salmon recovery is non-negotiable, to send a clear message to a White House with a lackluster record on all things environmental.

More likely, the governors will leave with a statement against breaching the four lower Snake River dams. That would be a missed opportunity to show leadership that allows for the possibility of a win-win solution.

The governors have been on record against breaching since July 2000, and “I’ve seen no indication that the stance on breaching has changed,” said Mark Snider, a spokesman for Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

Maybe so, but reopening the breaching battle would be pure politics and nothing more — “irresponsible political grandstanding,” in the words of Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy. It would provide the Bush administration with cover, at the expense of salmon.

One month ago, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden told the administration to come up with a new salmon strategy, since the old one didn’t comply with the Endangered Species Act. The judge said, in essence, that the government isn’t trying hard enough for salmon.

That should be unacceptable to governors, especially Kempthorne. Failure is not an option. An abundant, fishable wild salmon run is the only option.

We have supported breaching since 1997, since it is the best way to restore Idaho’s salmon, help communities capitalize on a rejuvenated fishery, and preserve Idaho’s water.

But this is a complicated debate. Breaching opponents maintain that Idaho needs to be able to barge goods through slackwater from Lewiston through the lower Snake — and powerful breaching foes have the ear of politicians. Breaching won’t happen until there’s a regional will for it. But the breaching question won’t go away until salmon are restored.

That’s the upshot of Redden’s ruling: Save salmon, and look at all options to make sure it happens.

None of this is easy. But the West’s governors need to show they are passionate about saving fish and restoring communities, and seeking an elusive win-win solution. Redrawing the line on breaching preserves only a decadelong fight that shows no signs of ending.

Governors Need to Send a Message: Salmon Matter
The Idaho Statesman, June 4, 2003

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