Idaho Lt. Governor Little Urges Obama
by Rocky Barker
Idaho Lieutenant Gov. Brad Little urged Obama administration officials to keep the collaborative process behind the current federal salmon and dam plan.
And he warned that if the biological opinion being questioned by a federal judge is abandoned, other agreements - especially one over tribal salmon harvests- would be vulnerable to legal action.
NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco and White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley were among the federal officials in Portland to hear from state tribal and federal officials about salmon and dams. They are preparing to decide how to deal with a Bush-era biological opinion that U.S. District Judge James Redden has said likely doesn't meet the Endangered Species Act.
"We share the court's concern for a final outcome that respects the law, the science and the salmon," Lubchenco and Sutley said in a statement. "It's only by recovering these protected salmon that once again fishermen, tribal and non-tribal alike, and all of us concerned about the environment will be able to properly enjoy the Northwest's bounty."
The salmon plan was written with the support of all of the states in the region but Oregon. It was also challenged by fishermen, environmentalists and fishing businesses.
When Idaho signed on to the collaborative plan along with Washington, and Montana and all of the tribes in the region except the Nez Perce, it said it would not challenge the harvest of up to 33 percent of some stocks of Idaho salmon and steelhead.
But Idaho "believes, as a matter of policy and regional equity that more wild fish should be allowed pass upstream rather than being incidentally harvested in the ocean and in the lower reaches of the Columbia," Little told federal officials.
"These harvests have a significant, adverse impact on Idaho's recovery efforts," Little said.
He said Idaho is not seeking to diminish tribal treaty rights "in any way."
Rebecca Miles, a Nez Perce tribal executive committee member who attended the meeting, didn't react to Little's statement. She said the meeting went well but seemed to ignor the most powerful voice on the issue, Redden.
"We feel like the judge's letter set the parameters," Miles said.
Redden wrote earlier this month that he didn't believe the current scientific analysis passes scientific or legal scrutiny. He also urged the administration to keep dam breaching or drawing down reservoirs as a contingency plan.
Redden also urged the administration to look for additional flows of water from the Snake and Columbia River, which could require more releases of water from the Boise River's reservoirs. He urged that federal agencies continue to spill water over eight federal dams on the two rivers, which dramatically reduces the revenue from electric power generated by the dams.
If the Obama administration doesn't support this biological opinion, Little said, "it will send a strong message that the Beltway knows best and strike a major blow to any subsequent calls for collaboration."
"To those representing our president, please tell him the Pacific Northwest is also counting on collaboration and counting on his support," Little said.
In the end, the ball is in the Obama administration‚s court, Miles said.
Lubchenco and Sutley plan to tour the four lower Snake dams in Washington Wednesday.
"While it's certainly too early for any of us to reach a judgment about the biological opinion, this meeting was a crucial step in arriving at that judgment," Lubchenco and Sutley said in a statement. "We are grateful for the candor and concern all the participants showed at the meeting."
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