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Salmon Advocates Still Willing to Talk

by Bill Sedivy
Idaho Falls Post Register, November 16, 2003

Salmon advocates won't drop the potential of a lawsuit over the Upper Snake River,
but they are offering concessions that make sense for eastern Idaho irrigators

A recent article in the Post Register may have left readers with the impression that Idaho Rivers United and other salmon advocates are not interested in discussing salmon recovery or management of Upper Snake River water with Sen. Mike Crapo or irrigation interests.

That is not the case.

Idaho Rivers United and its salmon campaign partners told the senator and irrigators Nov. 7 that we are very much open to talking, but we cannot, as requested, set aside potential litigation until June as a condition of discussing water management issues in the Upper Snake.

We also told the senator:

We offered our 2004 concession in hopes that Idaho farmers - some of whom are already planning and purchasing for the upcoming planting season - can enter the year ahead with some degree of certainty. Idaho Rivers United will work with interested parties this winter to evaluate the snowpack hand Mother Nature deals us, and to find ways to improve salmon flows without hurting farmers.

As readers may recall, Crapo asked Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, the National Wildlife Federation and other salmon advocates in October to defer any litigation on the Bureau of Reclamation's upper Snake projects until mid-2004.

In answering the senator, we said we could not set aside the possibility of litigation because several parties involved in Crapo-led talks - including the state, the federal government, the Nez Perce Tribe and some water users - are already engaged in secret talks on some of the same key issues conservation groups hoped to resolve in their original upper Snake lawsuit notice, which was withdrawn at the senator's request in September. Those confidential negotiations are taking place now within the Snake River Basin Adjudication, under the jurisdiction of an Idaho state court.

Asking conservation groups to set aside any potential litigation on the impacts of upper Snake water management while the SRBA negotiations continue behind closed doors is unfair. The parties involved in the SRBA talks are bound by those negotiations, and would not be able to negotiate freely with us.

Another reason we can't unconditionally set aside the possibility of litigation is that the Bush administration is headed "full steam backward" on the issue of salmon recovery and the court-ordered rewrite of the 2000 federal salmon plan. In that effort, supervised by a federal judge in Portland, Ore., administration lawyers give conflicting answers to questions regarding the need to include the upper Snake in recovery discussions, and about the involvement of state and tribal experts in drafting a new, legally defensible salmon plan.

With fewer than 30 percent of the recovery actions promised by the federal government in 2000 implemented to date, salmon advocates must reserve their right to protect salmon in court.

With that said, the 2,500 members of Idaho Rivers United appreciate Crapo's leadership and generally support the idea of finding collaborative solutions to salmon recovery issues affecting Idaho and the Northwest. We are committed to continuing to participate in any dialogue or discussion the senator - or anyone else - may choose to initiate.

But we cannot participate in talks under the condition that we stay out of court while other parties to those talks are in an Idaho court, making private agreements without our participation or knowledge and while Bush administration lawyers continue to try to dodge key salmon recovery issues downstream.

by Bill Sedivy, executive director of Idaho Rivers United.
Salmon Advocates Still Willing to Talk
Post Register, November 16, 2003

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