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Sharp Words at Salmon Session

by Patricia R. McCoy, Idaho Staff Writer
Capital Press, October 14, 2005

BOISE -- Environmentalists filing a lawsuit challenging the 2005 biological opinion on operation of the Upper Snake River dams threaten the historic Nez Perce Agreement in the Snake River Basin Adjudication.

That charge was voiced near the end of a two-day conference on salmon recovery by Scott Campbell, a Boise water attorney representing some irrigators involved in the lawsuit. It led to a sharp exchange between him and Tom Stuart of Idaho Rivers United, one of several environmental groups filing the lawsuit.

The latest lawsuit is a refiling of one originally filed in U.S. District Court in Portland 18 months ago, Stuart said.

In legal terms, the new filing is a request to supplement the previous complaint, extending it to cover the newest biop released March 31 by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Coalition for Idaho Water planned to file a response opposing the request during the week of Oct. 10, said Norm Semanko, president of the coalition.

"The previous lawsuit made specific calls for additional Idaho water. This suit does not, nor does it try in any way to overturn the Nez Perce Agreement," he said. "We're simply asking that the biops for the Upper and Lower Snake River projects be combined."

"With respect, frankly, you don't understand your own lawsuit, or one of your attorneys has misrepresented the facts. This lawsuit does in fact attack the Nez Perce Agreement. If you or your attorneys say it doesn't, you're either misinformed or you're lying," Campbell replied.

The exchange seemed near-symbolic of the sharp divide between all sides in the debate over saving or restoring various salmon runs throughout the Snake-Columbia River drainage. It served to highlight messages from other speakers who called for strong leadership and sincere negotiations to find creative solutions to the issue.

Campbell was one of six speakers on the final panel of the conference, discussing "where do we go from here?"

An open dialogue is next, said Rebecca Miles, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe executive committee.

"Litigation is what we're in right now, and it's not a fun place to be. It's also not the first option for the Nez Perce," she said. "We're caught up in the politics of scarcity, fighting over resources. There is potential for joint abundance and joint effort. The Nez Perce Agreement took courage to develop and common sense to ratify. It was refreshing to find we can work together. We need a collective will to practice the politics of abundance."

"The 1970s were the decade of ‘Fish? What fish?'" said Lori Bodi, of the Bonneville Power Administration, who has worked on salmon recovery for more than 25 years. "The 1980s were the high hopes era. The 1990s were the era of Fish Wars, with biops followed by litigation. It also included the failure of the Salmon Summit organized by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

"I'm not sure what to call our present situation. The verdict is out. We're still fighting each other because we don't have consensus about where we're going or what we should do. We've broken down into warring camps, fighting in court. The public is confused, because we present everything in sound bites, and in black and white terms. The truth is somewhere in between," Bodi said.

Consensus needs to come on the regional level. That will take leadership, and discussion tables where everyone is listened to and all concerns are addressed, she said.

"We need to find a creative way to recover the fish while respecting all other interests and needs," she said.

Other panelists included Terry Flores, of Northwest RiverPartners, who cited surveys indicating the general public isn't very aware of the salmon issue. She called for creating a better debate based on sound science that would hold everyone involved accountable for their actions or non actions.

The final panelist was Todd Ungerecht, senior policy adviser for NMFS, who also pointed out that biops followed by litigation have gone on for years.

"It's fair to remind people of how the fish we're trying to save are really doing. We saw 21 percent more fall chinook pass over Bonneville Dam this year than the average number seen 20 years ago. The numbers are nearly double the 10-year average. Similar increases were seen in steelhead numbers," he said.

"A lot of resources have been devoted to salmon recovery over the last 10 years. The war on terror, drought relief, and other issues will make a difference in how much resource we can devote to that effort in the future. We need to make sure our actions are appropriate, and accounted for," he said.

Ungerecht called for sub-basin planning at the local level, with solutions coming from the local level up, rather than down from the federal government.

The panel discussion concluded the two-day conference, during which numerous speakers reported on harvest, flow augmentation, the economic impacts of salmon recovery and related topics. The event was sponsored by the Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's Idaho office.

Patricia R. McCoy, Idaho Staff Writer
Sharp Words at Salmon Session
Capital Press, October 14, 2005

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