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This Season of Salmon Brings Hope
and Perhaps Legal Closure to Idaho

by Rocky Barker
Idaho Statesman, April 22, 2011

The season of salmon is upon us.

The fish that spawn in Idaho's high country and live their first year in the tributaries of the Salmon, Clearwater and Snake rivers are preparing for the spring runoff. The melting snows will carry them downstream into the main rivers, through eight dams, past thousands of predators out the Columbia and into the Pacific.

At the same time adult spring and summer chinook are working their way up stream, around anglers hooks, under fisher's nets, past sea lions jaws and through those same eight dams on their way home to Idaho. When they are done they will have climbed more than 6,000 feet and swam more than 10,000 miles in their four to five year life before spawning and dying in the streams where they started.

Those waters are among Idaho's most precious gems and the salmon not only provide food for people, bears and other predators. The dead salmon rot and their carcasses leave energy and nutrients they have carried from the Pacific to the relatively sterile ecosystems of Idaho's wild heart.

They are nature's carriers of renewal for Idaho's heartland.

The season of salmon triggers anticipation among anglers who are ready to line up elbow to elbow along Idaho rivers to catch a giant fish in fast water. It also brings joy to Idahoans who love to eat wild fish.

In restaurants, stores and markets nature's bounty from across the region offer treats for all.

So it should not be a surprise that the fight over salmon that has raged in the Pacific Northwest for more than 20 years is both emotional and epic. The dams that have killed millions of fish also produce low-cost, relatively carbon free power that helped America win World War II, and still electrifies a $20 billion regional economy.

The water that is diverted out of the rivers on to millions of acres of farmer's fields is as precious to the families who feed the world from the Pacific Northwest as the salmon are to the region's Indians.

Much of this fight has taken place in the federal courtroom U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland Ore. He will be holding oral arguments May 9 on a lawsuit that goes back in many ways to 1994.

He is expected to issue a final ruling this summer that will decide how the Snake - Columbia federal dam system will operate and the immediate future for endangered salmon and steelhead in the watershed.

This regional effort will get national attention May 1 when the National Public Television series Nature broadcasts "Salmon: Running the Gauntlet" The program was written and produced by Boise resident Jim Norton, who has worked as a guide on the storied Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

"The film is the fulfillment of what will be about a 6 1/2-year grind for me," Norton said. "I wrote the first tease in late 2004."

You can see Norton and several other salmon experts Sunday on Idaho Public Television's Dialogue program with Joan Cartan-Hansen.

No matter what side you are on in the debate you have to give credit people on all sides of this fight. All have elevated Idaho's awareness and action toward finding solutions that save the fish and the other values Idahoans share.

The season of salmon comes again and it brings hope for all Idahoans.

Rocky Barker
This Season of Salmon Brings Hope and Perhaps Legal Closure to Idaho
Idaho Statesman, April 22, 2011

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