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Rally Leans Toward Breaching 4 Dams

by Tim Woodward
The Idaho Statesman, February 24, 2000

Gathering, march draw 'dead salmon,' boats, Indians

Of the swirl of placards and banners outside the Idaho Statehouse for Wednesday's salmon recovery hearings, those that spoke the loudest were stacked on a sidewalk.

Printed with pro-dam slogans, they had no one to carry them.

"It's not much of a turnout so far," admitted breaching opponent Larry Lodge, who came from Clarkston, Wash., to say dams should be breached "only when we've tried every other alternative."

Lodge was one of about a dozen dam supporters at a 10 a.m. demonstration on the Statehouse steps. By 10:45 a.m., they were outnumbered by a crowd of breaching advocates that grew to more than 100 and covered the spectrum from environmentalists to fishing guides.

Two demonstrators in green cardboard fish heads posed as dead salmon. Trucks pulling jet boats and canoes, many festooned with slogans, filled the streets for a Statehouse rally and a parade to the Boise Centre on The Grove, where members of the Nez Perce tribe demonstrated with Indian chants and drumming.

Even the weather favored the anti-dam forces, raining on their opponents' demonstration, clearing up for the pro-breaching rally and parade, then raining again.

"It's cold and uncomfortable," "dead salmon" Amanee Hays of Boise said from her recumbent position on the Statehouse steps, "but it's not very comfortable for the salmon right now, either."

Boisean Terry Potter showed up in a full-length, yellow, red and green salmon suit, mail-ordered from a company in Seattle.

"It's an attention getter," he said. "It's not bad for Halloween, either."

Bonnie Olin-Quigley of Bosie wore a license plate from her car on a string around her neck. Its personalized message: No dams.

Nez Perce elder Horace Axtell of Lewiston concluded a pro-breaching speech with remarks in his native tongue. Few understood, but almost everyone applauded. As he spoke, a dark red salmon cutout with a "Save Us" message circled the crowd on the Statehouse steps.

"I'm encouraged," Axtell said. "This is a good turnout. We may be outnumbered elsewhere, but when the people have a chance to get together like this, it shows that there's popular support for breaching the dams. It's not an extreme position."

A contingent from Riggins came to support breaching -- for purely economic reasons.

"I'm a guide," Riggins demonstrator Jeoff Dann said. "I've made my living for 22 years by taking people fishing, and the fishing has diminished every year. It just gets worse and worse. . . . Riggins is pretty much a recreational town now. We don't have our mill anymore. If we don't breach the dams, Riggins will lose people. there won't be an economy for us."

Though outnumbered, dam supporters stayed to carry "Save our Dams" and "Don't breach our economy" placards and engage in spirited exchanges with breaching advocates.

"They're carring wooden placards, which takes logging," Boisean Al Palin said of the anti-dam majority. "They're wearing clothes, which takes electricity. They eat food, but they want to get rid of the dams that help the farmers. Sounds pretty hypocritical to me."

The sides briefly seemed to be evenly matched when 175 seniors from Jerome High School arrived, many expressing prodam sentiments. But their appearance in the midst of the demonstration, teacher Karen James said, was "just a coincidence. We're a farming community, so we're in favor of keeping dams. But we just happened to be scheduled to tour the Statehouse on a field trip today."

It was no coincidence that 24 members of the Nez Perce tribe were visiting from Lapwai. They came to beat the drum for continuing a way of life.

"We want to save the salmon for our children and our children's children," J.J. Meninick said between traditional Nez Perce songs that he and other members of the tribe chanted and played on a drum. "To us, the salmon mean life."

Clifford Wogsland came from Lewiston, where he works for the Potlatch Corp., to wait in a line that began at 5:30 a.m. for slots to testify at the hearings. He favors a middle ground.

"I'm for salmon, and I'm for the dams," he said. "I want to fix them so the salmon can get around them. And we need to stop killing the fish. They have nets miles wide that they herd them into before they can come home to spawn. You want to save a species: Stop killing it."

Pat Holmberg, who lives in Boise but was raised on a farm and opposes breaching, spent the morning passing out "Freedom Fighters" stickers.

"they don't know if breaching will save the salmon," she said. "We do know it will hurt the farmers."

But the salmon carried the day.

"We need to breach the dams for the next generation -- for your sons and daughters," Boisean John Dantzler said. "We need to save something. We're getting to the point that everything's going to be extinct."

Tim Woodward
Rally Leans Toward Breaching 4 Dams
The Idaho Statesman, February 24, 2000

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