the film
Commentaries and editorials

Otter Brings only Rhetoric
to Salmon Debate

by Editors
Idaho Statesman, October 17, 2006

No question about it: Butch Otter has been consistent. He opposes breaching dams in Washington state to save salmon in Idaho.

But his stubborn refusal to even discuss the idea is troubling. Idaho leaders need to set the tone for a delicate, far-reaching discussion about all options for saving Idaho's salmon, including breaching. When the Republican Otter wears his opposition to breaching as a badge of honor, the gubernatorial candidate offers nothing of substance to the debate.

Four years, the term of a governor, is a lifetime for Idaho's scarce salmon. These fish cannot afford four more years of rhetorical gridlock.

Otter accuses Democrat Jerry Brady of flip-flopping on salmon -- saying Brady's opposition to breaching runs counter to editorials written at his old newspaper, the Post Register in Idaho Falls. The retired publisher is splitting journalistic hairs. He says he opposes removing portions of the four lower Snake River dams, but says his paper is merely trying to encourage a discussion on salmon preservation by recommending breaching.

Posturing aside, Brady is fundamentally correct. Breaching, he says, should be part of a broader discussion about saving Idaho salmon. You cannot advance the conversation by declaring the dams off-limits.

During a debate in Lewiston last week, Otter said Idaho should dare not breach the dams, which provide Idaho a seaport and allow grain growers to barge their harvest to the Pacific Rim. In a Statesman editorial board meeting Monday, he conceded that his stance might hurt the prospects for negotiating a regional salmon plan -- but also pointed out that he worked in Congress to pass a water rights agreement with the Nez Perce tribe that allocates water for salmon.

Yet Otter's no-breaching stance fails to reflect a sizable number of Idahoans -- his would-be constituents -- who favor breaching. According to a January Boise State University survey, 42.7 percent of Idahoans oppose breaching, but 35.3 percent support breaching and a significant 21.4 percent are neutral or undecided.

Otter also ignores the science: Most experts say breaching affords Idaho salmon and steelhead their best and perhaps sole shot at recovery, by allowing more young fish to reach the Pacific Ocean.

Otter also seems to ignore the political reality: As long as the dams are in place, Idaho water users will face pressure to give up more water to move fish around the dams. That's another reason why the Statesman has supported breaching since 1997.

Idaho's salmon have struggled during the 20 years Otter has spent as lieutenant governor and in Congress. As long as we talk more about saving dams than we do about saving fish, the next four years don't sound too promising either.

Otter Brings only Rhetoric to Salmon Debate
Idaho Statesman, October 17, 2006

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