Governors Stand by their Dams
by Dan Gallagher, Associated Press
BOISE -- Four Northwest governors sat down in the Idaho Capitol Thursday to map out a salmon recovery strategy that balances fish and economic interests without breaching the four lower Snake River dams.
Instead, they maintained their support for making incremental improvements in spawning habitat and hatcheries.
Idaho Gov. Dirk Kemp-thorne, Washington Gov. Gary Locke, Montana Gov. Judy Martz and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski intended to use the closed-door session to build on the consensus the four states' chief executives reached three years ago.
The four states skirted the issue of dam breaching in 2000 because then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber supported the concept. But Kulongoski adviser Jim Myron said the new Oregon governor agrees with his counterparts that recovery can occur at the same time the regional economy is stimulated.
"It's important," Locke said as the meeting was about to begin, "for the four governors to be working together for fish, wildlife, affordable power and ultimately a stronger economy for our individual states."
"The Pacific Northwest made a commitment to pursue a proactive fish and wildlife recovery strategy that avoids the breaching of dams, and it remains a strategy we continue to endorse," the governors wrote in their latest recommendations which they are forwarding to the Bush administration.
The summit comes a month after a federal judge threw out the government's existing plan for managing the Columbia and Snake river basins on grounds it failed to comply with requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
That plan, mirroring the Four Governors Agreement in 2000, focused on restoring the Northwest salmon runs through improvements to habitat and hatchery operations and harvest limitations without breaching dams. Federal officials said 2 1/2 years ago that dam breaching would again be discussed toward the end of the decade if the current approach failed.
Kempthorne said some of the measures under way to preserve the salmon are working, such as placing screens at irrigation diversions to keep returning adults in the main river rather than getting lost.
"While the increases in some anadromous stocks certainly are attributable to more favorable ocean conditions, we believe that the investments made by the region in habitat improvements and mainstem passage are contributing to the positive results," the new document said.
Kempthorne and the other governors said they were not prepared to abandon that river management strategy, and he called the federal court objections to it technicalities.
U.S. District Judge James A. Redden ordered the federal government to rewrite the plan and then gave it a year to adjust hydroelectric dam operations to better protect wild fish in the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Since Redden's ruling, conservationists and four Northwest tribes with treaty fishing rights have insisted on reopening the debate over breaching the four dames in eastern Washington. Short of that, the tribes and environmental groups are calling for changes in dam operations to restore stronger and more natural river flows for the fish.
Salmon recovery activist Ed Chaney contended that revitalizing the region's economy and restoring the fish runs are not mutually exclusive, arguing that breaching the dams would actually be an economic boon to the region.
The governors also declared their commitment to maintaining the output of the hydroelectric power system. They called on the Bonneville Power Administration to report its progress on solving its financial problems to them by year's end.
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