the film
Commentaries and editorials

Threat of Salmon Lawsuit
Undermines Negotiations

by Editors
Editorial, The Idaho Statesman, November 16, 2003

Environmental groups are making a mistake when they continue to threaten to sue over water for salmon.

Their threat is a serious blow to a negotiation process that was just getting under way. It gets in the way of devising a united plan that protects Idaho water, and ensures the survival of Idaho salmon.

When these talks resume — and we hope it´s when and not if — environmental groups can start things in the right direction by putting aside their lawsuit. But we don´t expect them to do all the giving and get nothing in return. They deserve to hear from the feds — be it of their own accord or at Sen. Mike Crapo´s nudging — a measurable plan for what they will do for Idaho´s fish.

That, after all, was what the environmentalists started out wanting: accountability from the feds.

Environmental groups put the feds on notice this fall, warning that they would sue to get dam operators to release more water for salmon. Water users accused environmentalists of jeopardizing Idaho´s $3.5 billion agricultural economy. Crapo agreed to bring the parties together to negotiate, and environmentalists agreed to set aside their threat of a lawsuit.

But when Crapo asked environmentalists to keep the lawsuit on hold until June, he got a mixed response. The Idaho Conservation League walked away from the suit. Idaho Rivers United, Save Our Wild Salmon, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation opted to keep the lawsuit on the table — leaving even the measured Crapo a bit exasperated. “That basically moves this out of the collaboration arena and into the litigation arena and we will fight to defend Idaho´s water.”

There´s plenty of anger on all sides, and it´s understandable. Environmentalists are frustrated because the feds haven´t met their commitments to release 427,000 acre-feet of water a year for salmon. That´s why they´re threatening a lawsuit to seek up to that 427,000 acre-feet.

Dropping the lawsuit doesn´t suddenly produce 427,000 acre-feet — enough to cover all of Ada County with 7 1/2 inches of water.

That magic number would probably be unrealistic in another drought year, Crapo spokesman Lindsay Nothern said.

So why talk, and why not sue? The mediation process is worth saving. First, it is helping the competing sides work through years of distrust and public sniping. Second, it is getting the federal agencies involved. “These people take these talks very seriously,” Nothern said.

In the long run, both of these benefits may far outweigh anything gained in court. And here´s why:

The Crapo salmon negotiations haven´t been going on long, but they have brought together the state´s salmon players and the federal agencies.

That´s a start. We´d hate to see it get chucked aside so quickly.

For now, consensus appears as elusive as salmon recovery itself. But Idaho must fight for the former if it ever wants to see the latter.

Threat of Salmon Lawsuit Undermines Negotiations
The Idaho Statesman, November 16, 2003

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