Save Salmon Now, say Ex-Northwest Governorsby Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2009
With just weeks to go before the Obama administration must weigh in on how best to save the dwindling stocks of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, three ex-governors of Oregon, Washington and Idaho are urging abandonment of the business-as-usual plan hatched under former President George W. Bush.
The governors' letter joins a growing chorus of calls for a top-to-bottom new dialogue on salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers. More than 20 federal lawmakers just signed on to a bill that would put all options, including removal of four dams on Idaho's Snake River, on the table in an effort to jump-start recovery before there are no salmon left to save.
"We believe your leadership now provides an opportunity to bring fishermen, farmers, energy users and communities together to make real progress on this issue after long years of contention," said the letter to President Obama, signed by John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Mike Lowry of Washington and Cecil D. Andrus of Idaho, the last of whom who is also a former secretary of the Interior.
The new administration has until Aug. 14 to review the biological opinions for recovery of 13 endangered or threatened runs of salmon and steelhead. U.S. District Judge James Redden, who has overseen much of the two decades of litigation on the issue, has already warned he may reject this plan too, if it doesn't look at all the science and at least consider the possibility of breaching the upstream dams.
In another sign that there's more willingness to talk turkey on the Idaho dams, the communities of Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Wash., whose ports only exist because the dams provide passage for barges up and down the river, have said they're ready to talk.
Not that they want to pull down the dams, but they say they want to be included in any meetings about the future of the rivers, and if dam breaching comes to the table, it had better include options for transporting grain and other goods by truck or train instead.
There are still powerful political and economic interests behind leaving the dams in place and allowing the government to proceed with its plan to improve salmon habitat and minimize fish-killing aspects of the dams. Polls show most voters favor keeping all the dams in place.
But the voices for a meaningful discussion that puts everything on the table have never been stronger.
"Each of us dealt with this issue. In addition to conflict and contention, we each found a pragmatic willingness among many in the Northwest to seek alternatives to further gridlock. But for various reasons, the threshold was never passed," the governors wrote.
"Your administration now can provide a key ingredient -- federal leadership -- to match the broad readiness of Northwest citizens to pass that threshold to find a settlement."
August 5, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington D.C., 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We write to you regarding Columbia and Snake River salmon, a major economic and environmental issue in our and other western states that is now under formal review by your administration. We believe your leadership now provides an opportunity to bring fishermen, farmers, energy users, and communities together to make real progress on this issue after long years of contention.
Last year the outgoing Bush administration submitted a plan to protect and restore endangered Columbia-Snake salmon and steelhead. The State of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho, and a coalition of businesses, fishermen, and conservationists challenged that plan in U.S. District Court in Portland, Oregon. This court has ruled two previous plans illegal, and warned of "serious consequences" if the new plan is also deficient. On May 1, not long before the court was to rule, your administration asked for time to review this plan for legal and scientific merit, and for consistency with your policies.
We applaud and thank you for this sensible request.
This review is now underway, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Council on
Environmental Quality. Senior members of your administration visited the Northwest several weeks ago, and we understand the review will conclude on August 14. As former governors of three states directly affected, we offer you our perspective on the decisions you must make, and our willingness to help, in any way you think would be helpful, as you make them.
We think the District Court's guidance letter, issued May 18, indicates that the plan, like its two predecessors, is likely to be found illegal if you decide to support it. We urge you not to take that course.
Instead, we believe the time has come, and is propitious, for settlement talks under the court's aegis on law and science, and under your leadership for related economic and political issues. Dialogue among key parties on the salmon, energy, water and job issues at stake here has never entirely died, but it was not a priority for the last administration. Bringing people together to find lawful, science-based solutions that help people, create jobs, and build the green economy of tomorrow is a priority for you, and it is exactly what is needed in this case.
During our respective terms in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, each of us dealt with this issue. In addition to conflict and contention, we each found a pragmatic willingness among many in the Northwest to seek alternatives to further gridlock.
But for various reasons, the critical threshold was never passed. Your administration now can provide a key ingredient - federal leadership - to match the broad readiness of Northwest citizens to pass that threshold to find a settlement.
We therefore hope your administration's review of the Columbia-Snake salmon plan concludes that the federal government will work with the District Court, plaintiffs, and other parties to make the salmon plan lawful and science-based as quickly as possible, and also lead discussions among the affected fishing, farming, energy and community interests to reach settlement on the political path forward.
Thank you, Mr. President. We appreciate your attention to this important issue.
Cecil D. Andrus
Former Governor of Idaho
1971 to 1977 and 1987 to 1995
John Kitzhaber, MD
Former Governor of Oregon
1995 to 2003
Former Governor of Washington
1993 to 1997
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