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Imagine a National Wildlife Refuge

Guest Opinion by Reed Burkholder of Boise
Boise Weekly, July 12, 2000
Idaho Statesman, July 7, 2000

Imagine a National Wildlife Refuge. It could be a local one like Deerflat, Malheur, Minidoka, or Grays Lake. If you are like me you see water and habitat, lots of it.

Now imgaine National Salmon Refuge in the Pacific Northwest with undammed rivers, fast, clear water, cobblestone bottoms, gravel bars and plenty of pines and firs in the higher elevations - everything adult salmon and steelhead need for spawning and rearing baby salmon and steelhead.

It's a beautiful dream.

Beginning in 1964 with the passage by Congress of the Wilderness Act this dream was supposed to become reality. Many millions of acres within the Snake River Basin were set aside to be protected forever from degradation in order to support fish as well as other wildlife.

Now we have many areas in Idaho and northeastern Oregon that are essentially salmon and steelhead refuges.

One example would be the 2-million-plus-acre Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Central Idaho. This wilderness was created by the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980 which says regarding its purpose, "to provide staturoy protection for the lands and waters and the wilderness-dependent wildlife ant the resident and anadromous fish which thrive within this undisturbed ecosystem." Sounds like a National Salmon Refuge to me.

But the Frank Church Wilderness is not the only salmon refuge in the Snake River Basin. We have five other wilderness areas with wild salmon or steelhead that spawn within them. The Selway Bitterrot Wilderness in the Clearwater and the Salmon drainages, and the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Also the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness in northeastern Oregon. These five wilderness areas encompass another 2 million acres of federally protected lands and streams.

We also have salmon refuges by another name -- National Recreation Areas -- for example, the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in the Stanley, Idaho area and the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The congressional act that established the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in 1972 says, "The Secretary shall administer the recreation area . . . in such a manner as will best provide (1) the protection and conservation of the salmon and other fisheries . . ." sounds like a National Salmon Refuge to me.

But there are still more areas that we might consider to be salmon refuges in our own backyard -- our Wild and Scenic Rivers. Let me name a few -- the Middle Fork of the Salmon, much of the Main Salmon, the Lochsa, the Selway, the Middle Fork of the Clearwater, and the Rapid River in Idaho. Also the Imnaha, the Wenaha, part of Joseph Creek, and part of the Grande Ronde in northeastern Oregon.

With all this federally protected salmon habitat, I have to wonder what our federal public servants charged with protecting these areas have been doing for the last 25 years other than cashing their paychecks. All Snake River salmon and steelhead are either extinct or listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Our National Salmon Refuge, the jewels of pristine habitat in our region, are virtually empty of wild salmon and steelhead. There is no abundance of anadromous fish in any of our Snake river Basin wilderness areas, national recreation areas, or wild and scenic rivers.

Imagine a National Wildlife Refuge without migratory birds. Unthinkable. Yet we sit back and allow our federal government bureaucrats to cash their paychecks without fulfilling their responsiblities to our National Salmon Refuges.

Reed Burkholder - Boise
Imagine a National Wildlife Refuge, Guest Opinion
Boise Weekly - July 12, 2000

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