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Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho,
Salmon Response

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

U.S. Senator from Idaho Mike Crapo, Republican

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

Judge Redden has now overturned both the Clinton and Bush-era biological opinions. Uncertainty and litigation will likely continue until common sense prevails and the region develops a broadly-supported recovery plan.

As I have consistently said, we can expect continued appeals and rivalries in court, Congress, and administrative arenas until we realize this effort requires a collaborative decision. Therefore, I continue to advocate a region-wide collaborative process instead of litigating and legislating.

When we find a solution together, we may need to propose legislation together to enact it, but it is clear that continued efforts to engage in legislative remedy before collaboration will continue to result in failed efforts to resolve the conflict.

In my view, the most appropriate congressional action would be to ratify the regional plan if and when it is developed.

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

Technically, we have never had an official recovery plan. The documents that have been struck down in court during both the Clinton- and Bush-eras - known as Biological Opinions - have included many necessary activities for habitat, hydropower, hatcheries, and harvest. None of them have been sufficient. The conflict is not over what they include, but what they do not include.

The debate is over the comprehensive solution that deals with the mainstem and the rest of the watershed. We can never do this in documents designed to minimize harm; we need a plan to maximize results.

We need to write a regional recovery plan that produces results, measures them, and adapts accordingly. There is no comprehensive solution on the table which would include the mainstem as well as other aspects of recovery.

What we do know is that attempts to write recovery actions into a biological opinion have failed - this is far too complex without a regionally collaborative recovery plan. Without the aforementioned regional consensus, we will never get the recovery plan we need to save salmon and steelhead.

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 have supported and continue to support some appropriate level of spill as part of a larger "spread the risk" strategy between smolt transportation and in-river migration. The cost of spill must be carefully calculated. Reliable, credible science should guide the spreading of risk and minimizing of costs. These costs, and how they might affect electricity rates, must be carefully controlled. It is extremely important to respect the impact of the cost of electricity. We must do everything we can to keep our electricity rates competitive and sustainable.

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?

No. For more than a decade, Idaho has provided up to 427,000 acre-feet (depending on snowpack and rainfall) of water to assist smolt migration. Idaho's contribution to flow has now been established in law through the Nez Perce/Snake River Basin Agreement (SRBA) and I will aggressively defend that agreement. This agreement was ratified after years of hard-won, good faith negotiations.

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

No. However, the documents raising concerns about the impartiality of the Fish Passage Center operations should be fully studied and the center's operations fixed if necessary.

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?

Breaching the dams is currently politically impossible in the region because of the extensive economic, cultural, and social disruption breaching would cause. Dam breaching is, of course, the major point of conflict in salmon recovery; however, focusing on this one issue avoids the broader question of how to manage the mainstem of the Snake and Columbia rivers for all values: fish passage, electricity generation, agriculture, flood control, transportation, recreation, and others. We cannot reconcile all these issues until we establish a regional collaborative process in which people from all perspectives can sit down at the same table and work out consensus-based solutions. If we collaborate, many different options will be proposed and evaluated. We will find some that work for the fish, the economy, jobs and other values, and we will ultimately agree on best one.

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?

All aspects of salmon and steelhead recovery, including economic impact, should be thoroughly studied. Reliable, credible science and economic analysis are essential to effective collaboration. However, studies should not be linked to intended or predetermined next steps. Studies should answer questions raised in collaboration and the collaboration should use the answers to develop actions.

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?

In the fall of 2003 I convened and facilitated a collaborative effort intended to determine whether the various interests were ready to negotiate an agreement. They were not ready and my effort ended because some preferred litigation.

We have been at this point before. Why would another attempt to negotiate be any different this time? Have things changed enough for the many interests to stay at that table and commit themselves to finding solutions? Do the various interests have enough flexibility to give us sufficient footing to try again?

I've said many times, neither litigation nor legislation without regional consensus will succeed. Of course, regional negotiations can succeed and I am willing to try again any time we can get the appropriate interests to the table.

The successful negotiations that resulted in the Nez Perce-SRBA agreement prove that good-faith, high-stakes, hard-won negotiations can succeed when the parties want them to succeed. The agreement is a milestone in regional politics and a landmark on the way to a regional solution to the anadromous fish problem.

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?

Posing the question in this way perfectly illustrates the mindset that complicates an already complex problem. This issue should not be approached by ranking our values for our fish, hydropower production, irrigation, inland shipping, and state water sovereignty above and below each other. Doing so perpetuates conflict. Building consensus through collaboration gives us a chance for win-win solutions. Obviously there are always tradeoffs. But solutions exist and can be found that are actually better for most, if not all, interests if we will commit the time and effort to work together to build consensus-based solutions.

Again, it is not a matter of determining who will lose by determining whose interests rank higher than others. It is a matter of obtaining the best possible outcome for all interests. Most people will support negotiations when they know they have had a real opportunity to be heard and they can see that the interests they feel most strongly about have been fairly treated.

Idaho Statesman Questionnaire
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Salmon Response
The Idaho Statesman, August 7, 2005

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