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Craig's Parting Shot Hurts NW Salmon

by Dan Ritzman, Guest Columnist
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 12, 2007

In the 15 years since Northwest salmon and steelhead began their grim, steady march onto the endangered species list, the most consistently effective member of Congress working against their recovery has been Larry Craig, senator of Idaho.

Now that he is resigning, one might think this ends his anti-salmon legacy and renews hope for forging a solution that meets the needs of the fish and the people of the Northwest. But it doesn't. Thanks to Craig, the Senate's Interior Appropriations bill contains a parting anti-salmon gift.

In late June, Craig (who was part of the subcommittee writing the bill) included a provision that urges the government to implement a specific plan, from 2005, for managing federal dams and reservoirs in Idaho to help restore imperiled Snake River salmon. The problem is this plan would not have helped salmon recover, and in all likelihood it would have hastened the decline of this important resource. That's why it was ruled illegal in the spring of 2006 by the U.S. District Court in Portland, which ordered the government to write it again. But Craig wants it implemented, illegal or not.

The 2005 plan provides a relatively small amount of water -- 427,000 acre-feet, and then only in years when Mother Nature makes it readily available -- to slightly boost downstream salmon flows. The plan says those reservoirs and their operations have no other obligations to help salmon. Among the handful of tools to help endangered salmon move through the much-dammed Snake and Columbia rivers, a few dam removals and more water when salmon are migrating are the two that scientists deem best.

Craig's provision could eliminate or delay much of the latter tool's use, and in essence insulate Idaho from real partnership in salmon recovery. It may be good for a few powerful Idaho water users. But it is bad for Columbia Basin salmon and the people, communities and cultures that depend on them.

For more than 15 years, Larry Craig has enabled the government's bad behavior on salmon recovery. Since 2001, he has actively helped the Bush administration implement its policy of illegally ignoring, evading and twisting the Endangered Species Act so that salmon will not be saved. What's done is done -- but there's no reason to give him one more whack at our salmon in absentia.

The provision described here is Section 127 of S1696, the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2008. Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell should make sure it is stripped from the bill on the Senate floor, and Rep. Norm Dicks should do the same if it remains intact when the Senate and House versions are reconciled. Washington's members of Congress can make sure Craig's anti-salmon legacy is not allowed one last hurrah.

Dan Ritzman is Northwest/Alaska regional director of the Sierra Club
Craig's Parting Shot Hurts NW Salmon
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 12, 2007

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