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Witnesses Stand Up for Fish Count

by William McCall, The Associated Press
The Register-Guard, December 8, 2005

PORTLAND - The choice between counting pennies and counting fish drew heated debate in the battle over salmon on Wednesday as fishermen, environmentalists, Indian tribes and utilities lined up to tell the Northwest Power and Conservation Council they are worried about the closure of the regional Fish Passage Center.

The fish center was created in 1984, four years after Congress approved the Northwest Power Act and created the regional council to help balance energy development with fish and wildlife protection in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Washington state.

Salmon and other fish are counted as they travel past reporting sites on the Columbia and Snake rivers, and the data are sent back to the Fish Passage Center here for analysis.

Last month, Congress approved an appropriations bill containing a provision by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, that cut funding for the center and directed the council and the Bonneville Power Administration to find another agency or organization to take over the job within 120 days.

The Craig provision drew an immediate outcry from the tribes, fishermen and conservation groups, who accused the Idaho Republican of political payback for fighting the Bush administration in court over salmon policy.

"It's really disturbing to see this legislation has come about,'' said Kathryn "Kat'' Brigham, secretary of the board of trustees for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Brigham told the council that Craig had targeted the fish center because he was unhappy that its figures were used by U.S. District Judge James Redden last May to reject the $6 billion Bush administration plan to improve the Columbia River Basin hydroelectric system, ruling that it failed to adequately protect salmon.

"Because people didn't like what the fish center has done, he's (Craig) getting rid of it,'' Brigham said. "But he's wrong.''

Most of the testimony included pleas to maintain the fish center in some form as an independent agency based in one place rather than scattering its duties to multiple agencies or contractors. "Our region is plagued with the collective inability to link data,'' said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fisheries manager for Idaho Fish and Game. "Let's not exacerbate the situation.''

Other Northwest senators, including Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington state, all Democrats, have written letters supporting a transition that maintains the fish center's functions.

Discussion will resume at the regular council meeting on Dec. 14.

Related Pages:
Senator Aims to Kill Agency That Tracks Salmon by Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, 6/23/5
Zeroing Out the Messenger by Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, 11/30/5

William McCall, The Associated Press
Witnesses Stand Up for Fish Count
The Register-Guard, December 8, 2005

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