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The Silence of Extinction

Stephen M. Pauley
Guest Opinion - Wood River Journal - September 13, 2000

Since the draft biological opinion (BiOp) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was announced on July 27, senators Mike Crapo (ID), Larry Craig (ID), Gorton Smith (OR) and Slade Gorton (WA) have been unusually quiet on the proposed federal non-breach solution for salmon recovery. Nor have we heard from Idaho's representatives Helen Chenoweth-Hage (ID) and Mike Simpson (ID). Perhaps their deafening silence is because NMFS gave them what they wanted -- the dams will stay in place for at least another eight years. The draft BiOp by NMFS, which is to become final after the election (surprised?), talks about improving habitat, hatcheries and harvest, the three H's other than hydro, but offers no specifics. It plans to plan, and calls for an estimated $1 billion more in taxpayer funded studies.

Or could it be that these politicians have a greater fear than dam breaching? Could they fear that the no-breach decision means eventually having to enforce very onerous conservation regulations on the industries that feed them -- agriculture, mining and logging? Staying quiet now makes sense for our lawmakers; don't rock the boat if these special interest donors won't have to take immediate steps to protect the fish.

A final recovery BiOp by NMFS with no specifics would greatly please our Northwest congressional delegation, and would sure thrill Idaho's Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who loves meetings and photo opportunities on salmon that result in nothing specific to help fish. The thinking may be, "Hey, if the feds don't mandate the specifics on how to enforce the three H's other than hydro, we won't alienate voters, nor risk getting the PAC money we need for our next elections. Instead, let's spend a billion more of U.S. taxpayer money on additional studies to make it look like we really care about the fish. Then we can continue to study the fish to death without saying anything."

However, we can expect covert, behind-the-scenes maneuvers like the one taken last week by Slade Gorton. According to a press release, Gorton, in his usual fashion of ignoring public input and the separation of powers on major issues, introduced an appropriations rider that would prohibit the administration from spending any funds in the next fiscal year either to remove the dams or to take steps toward eventual removal, such as planning and engineering studies. Since NMFS has said that dam breaching is still very much an option if salmon recovery fails eight years from now, Gorton's attempt to kill breaching amounts to the arrogant use of his power and seniority in Congress. Should one man have the power to tell NMFS (Department of Commerce) to take a hike? Should he ignore over 200 scientists who say breaching is the best alternative to save salmon? Should he thumb his nose at the public who overwhelmingly supported dam breaching during last winter's hearings?

Aside from these assaults on democracy by Gorton, my guess is that our own regional politicians will continue to stay quiet, but continue to say their silent prayers. Perhaps they pray that the final BiOp by NMFS remains as nebulous as the current draft BiOp: a political copout that calls for more studies, one without the teeth needed to save fish.

On the other hand, if the final BiOp were to specifically spell out how farmers would have to control fertilizer runoff, fence riparian zones, screen irrigation water, and limit pesticides; or limit ranchers on where and how they graze cattle or raise dairy cows and pigs and clean up the associated groundwater pollution; or tell mining that certain mines would have to be cleaned up and that new mines might not be approved; or tell logging to stop clearcutting and stop cutting trees next to streams and rivers, then our delegates would begin to really worry. then their decisions would be tougher. Should they follow NMFS's directives, decide whether Clean Water Act, both of which are mostly ignored in the Northwest? Those laws must be enforced locally if native salmon runs are to survive.

So in the next few months we will hear no gloating by our congressional delegates, nor by Idaho's governor over the draft BiOp. the hands that feed these politicians are happy, at least for now. Only an outcry by the American public and treaty lawsuits by Northwest Indian tribes can save salmon. Meanwhile, listen to the deafening silence of the inevitable extinction of salmon and steelhead. Please remember the names of those responsible.

Stephen M. Pauley
The Silence of Extinction
Wood River Journal September 13, 2000

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