the film
Commentaries and editorials

Idaho Will Have to Push
to Get Back its Wild Salmon

by Editors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, June 7, 2003

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne says he doesn´t just want to see Idaho salmon stave off extinction.

He says he wants salmon runs that are healthy and “harvestable” — a buzzword with salmon advocates, who want to bring back a salmon fishery in Idaho.

So how serious is Kempthorne about it? And how effective will he be in pressing the case? This is an environmental issue that could define Kempthorne´s time in the governor´s office.

Meeting in Boise Thursday, Kempthorne and the Northwest´s other three governors signed off on 14 pages of recommendations on achieving a difficult balance: preserving Idaho´s salmon runs and protecting the region´s cheap hydropower.

The governors made it clear what they don´t want. They don´t want the lower Snake River dams removed in the name of saving salmon. They don´t want their residents and businesses socked with higher power costs that could stifle economic recovery.

If that point needed to be underscored further, the governors shared their podium at a press conference Thursday with Stephen Wright, head of the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that markets electricity from 31 federally owned dams in the region.

But Kempthorne sounded like a salmon advocate in talking about the need to restore “harvestable” populations. The point wasn´t lost on Bert Bowler of Idaho Rivers United, an environmental group which was skeptical heading into Thursday´s meeting. A demand for a fishable salmon population is “good stuff,” Bowler said after the governors´ news conference.

Salmon advocates want to recover one of the species that makes the Northwest unique. They also want Idaho communities to share the bounty of a salmon fishery that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

The governors see it a little differently. Their economic incentive loops back to hydro. Fish recovery is important, the governors said in their report, “because it is not only the right thing to do, but also because the failure to do so can jeopardize the federal hydropower system and reignite the controversy over dam breaching.”

Whatever the motivation, salmon recovery isn´t just keeping these fish from going extinct. The fish deserve better. So does Idaho.

A lot of the pressure to advocate for salmon falls to Kempthorne, as well as the state´s other political leaders. Idaho boasts some of the most prime salmon habitat in the Northwest; in that same vein, Idaho could stand to gain the most from real recovery of wild salmon.

Kempthorne, who stuck to his principles earlier this year, convincing Republican legislators to raise taxes for education and health programs, could have a tougher job ahead: making the case to the feds to restore salmon in the rivers, not just in theory.

It won´t be easy. BPA, which pays much of the region´s salmon restoration bill, wants to reduce this budget by 25 percent. “We understand the need to find cost reductions in all areas, including fish and wildlife,” the governors wrote. “However, we are concerned that sustained or deep funding reductions by BPA in its fish and wildlife program could jeopardize the recovery progress we have made and put BPA at legal and financial risk.”

The governors´ report recognizes that the Northwest can´t keep its cheap hydropower and ignore the needs of fish. That´s not quite the same as advocating a strong salmon population, for Idaho´s sake. That advocacy has to come from Idaho´s political leaders, starting with Kempthorne.

Idaho Will Have to Push to Get Back its Wild Salmon
The Idaho Statesman, June 7, 2003

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