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Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Montana,
Salmon Response

by Idaho Statesman Questionnaire
The Idaho Statesman, August 7, 2005

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, Democrat

1. Do you support U.S. District Judge James Redden's recent decision to overturn the Bush administration's biological opinion for salmon?

While Montana has been watching this issue very closely, our concerns are resident fish like bull trout and white sturgeon, the transportation of our agricultural crops, and the cost of our power. We do not have anadromous fish in Montana. We are studying the legal issues involved and watching how the effects of the court-ordered operations impact Libby and Hungry Horse dams in Montana along with the resident fish in those areas, salmon survival, and the region's ratepayers. In the meantime, I will let the judicial process take its course, and be prepared to become more involved if necessary. I can say that all of the uncertainty surrounding the decision does not help anyone.

2. In your view, what are the merits of - or shortcomings within - the Bush recovery plan?

As I mention in the previous answer, Montana is not as directly impacted by this as the other states in the Northwest. We will continue to follow the federal plan and ongoing legal battles as they do have some implications for Montana and we will get involved when, and if, necessary to protect our interests here in Montana.

3. In your view, what are the merits - or drawbacks - of spilling water from the lower Snake River dams and McNary Dam to aid fish migration?

I agree with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's assessment in its 2003 Mainstem Amendments that spill should be managed according to the most biologically effective level at each project and that spillways generally continue to be an effective in-river passage route. However, the tough policy call as I see it arises when you only have a relatively small number/percentage of fish migrating through the system because such a large number of the fish are transported by barges through the system. The effect on the ratepayers of the region should be considered when a large amount of water is being spilled for a relatively small number of fish.

4. Should additional water from Idaho be used to speed up the flow of water in the Columbia/Snake river system to aid fish migration, as some fish advocates have suggested? Why or why not?

This is a sensitive issue to me, not because I am an expert on the water coming from Idaho, but because we have similar issues in Montana. Every year, water is taken from Libby and Hungry Horse dams in Montana for "flow augmentation" to presumably assist salmon on their migration to the ocean. This water is often released in an unstable manner and this, combined with the serious drawdowns in the reservoirs behind the dams, has serious negative impacts to resident fish and wildlife in Montana and to our overall economy. This is all the more frustrating when recent science indicates there is little or no benefit for salmon by the time this water reaches the lower Columbia River, despite serious impacts to Montana's resources. I fully support salmon recovery, but do not promote actions that assist one fish to the detriment of others, namely bull trout and white sturgeon. We have a plan in Montana to still provide water for salmon in the summer in a way beneficial to our fish and wildlife. This plan is yet to be implemented by the federal agencies.

5. Should Congress eliminate funding for the Fish Passage Center?

It is important to have strong science and data in the region focused on salmon recovery, especially considering the resources devoted to this effort over the last many years. We all worry about accountability and properly collecting data, and good science is one way of assisting in this. It seems to me that the personality conflicts associated with this issue are so severe as to prevent the Fish Passage Center from achieving its goals effectively. This may be impossible to overcome.

6. Most fisheries biologists say breaching the lower Snake River dams gives Idaho salmon their best - and possibly only - shot at recovery. Yet at this time, no prominent elected official in the Northwest advocates breaching. What are your concerns about breaching, and do you believe there is any way to mitigate those concerns?

There are some obvious economic impacts from losing the electric generation from those facilities and other impacts associated with barging, irrigation, etc. A specific example of an economic impact to Montana is that the rates of grain to market could increase because of the loss of an important transportation option. The policymakers need to balance these competing interests. Since the impacts to Montana are mostly indirect impacts, I do not have a policy position on this matter as long as those indirect impacts to Montana could be mitigated and Montana's economy and ratepayers were not affected.

7. During a recent congressional field hearing in Clarkston, Wash., Rep. George Radanovich, R-Calif., questioned why the region hasn't studied the economic impact of breaching the lower Snake River dams. Would you support such a study?

I think both the federal government and some private groups have studied the concept of breaching. However, since there is still uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of salmon recovery in the region, a new study may be appropriate. The caution should be not to analyze this to death. Let us get the facts and make a final decision as a region once and for all.

8. Redden's most recent ruling also came with a call to action for Northwest elected officials, federal agencies, industry, tribes and fish advocates: negotiate a settlement to this issue. Can the Northwest realistically negotiate an agreement on salmon? Do you support an open and inclusive negotiation process where all options are on the table? What would be your personal role in brokering an agreement?

I believe the Northwest can come to an agreement on salmon issues and overall issues associated with the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System. It will require fresh thoughts and a spirit of cooperation absent from the region for many years. For the past few months the states and federal agencies have been discussing these matters. I am pleased with the progress of these deliberations and see a positive interchange with my colleagues in Idaho, Washington and Oregon. We need to work with the tribes, utilities, and others in the region to get a true regional buyin. This probably means putting more items on the table in the spirit of openness and inclusion.

Montana's representatives on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council have been actively working on these issues, but I would willingly help broker an agreement if the region can get to the point where policymakers in the region could actually sit down, have a reasonable conversation, and come to term.

9. The question of salmon recovery ultimately becomes a question of values: saving the fish vs. protecting interests such as hydropower production, irrigation and inland shipping. Where do you personally place the value of wild salmon recovery against these other interests?

I honestly believe we have to get past this "us versus them" mentality when discussing these issues. I know that salmon advocates do not want to harm ratepayers, irrigators, or the economy. I also know that utilities, irrigators and others who propose a different structure in the region are fully for salmon recovery. Because we have a limited amount of resources, everyone is not going to get what they want. Knowing that, some in the region need to quit taking every policy decision so personally. It is not about choosing one side or another, it is about making the best decisions we can based on the best information we have. For example, in Montana, we are willing to give a share of our water to help salmon in the lower Columbia River as long as our fish and wildlife and economy are not adversely affected from such an operation.

I think we are all for salmon recovery. I know the importance of salmon recovery to the region and in particular the role they play for the tribes in the region. We all need to remember the history of the salmon and the importance they have played in the development of the region when making important policy decisions. We also need to keep up with the times, and that means balancing the salmon with other issues in the region that are not going away any time soon.

Idaho Statesman Questionnaire
Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Montana, Salmon Response
The Idaho Statesman, August 7, 2005

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