Discuss All Salmon Options
A new plan for Northwest salmon could be possible
if all sides shifted away from dam breaching and other such extremes.
Regardless of how much fishing President Bush gets into his Idaho visit, environmentalists are ready to sink their hooks into his salmon policy.
The campaign to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington resurfaced in a Portland courtroom this summer. But those who want this all-or-nothing prospect for salmon are using the wrong bait..
To the majority of Idahoans, western politicians and regional economists, dam breaching amounts to a non-starter for the region. If salmon advocates want a new solution to succed, they'll need to discuss new ideas that cover middle ground, not the extreme idea of dam breaching.
The option of dam breaching died under President Bush in his first term, only to swim right back to U.S. District Judge James Redden of Portland, who ordered increased spills on four Lower Snake River dams this summer. Although appealed by the Bush administration in July, the 9th Circuit Court upheld Redden's decision.
The environmental plaintiffs say that's good, but not enough. In addition to more Lower Snake River water for salmon, they've targeted flows on the Upper Snake River flows in Idaho.
Once again the stakes go up for one extreme position on dams. But that process is neither sensible, nor realistic.
In a meeting with The Times-News editorial board earlier this month, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said the state's options to fight the ruling are limited. The Endangered Species Act, which gives judges broad power to take Snake River water, can't be changed instantly by Congress. And the two sides in this debate -- salmon advocates and dam supporters -- are firmly entrenched in their ideas.
"I have to believe we will litigate, legislate and battle over this issue until we begin a collaborative discussion," Crapo said.
Crapo says a collaborative discussion, similar to those he helped broker on the Owyhee Initiative for wilderness in southwest Idaho, should include all options -- including dam breaching, even though he's ardently opposed to it.
"Everything has to be on the table, but everyone has to come to the table with a commitment to discuss alternatives," Crapo said.
If that happened, participants would listen and see all at stake -- jobs, transportation, highways, tribal interests, affordable power, and of course, salmon and water. In these kinds of talks, you win and you lose conditions. But the hard work bears fruit.
Ultimately, a truly collaborative process like the ones Crapo envisions would result in a plan for salmon recovery that keeps the many goals in mind.
If the option of dam breaching on the table is needed to bring all parties together, so be it. But the odds are long, extremely long, that such a collaborative deal would end with that option. Dam breaching is such an extreme option that even former Idaho Gov. and U.S. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus says it's not realistic, and that pushing it to the exclusion of other ideas closes the debate.
Crapo is right that the time has come to shape new solutions with balanced to all interests. The far extremes of breaching dams or abolishing the Endangered Species Act won't ever happen. Somewhere in the middle, however, an agreement is waiting to be made.
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