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Idaho Signs Conservation Pact

by Associated Press
Idaho State Journal, October 10, 2003

CHALLIS -- The state has signed an agreement intended to improve irrigation-related practices in the upper Salmon River Basin that have limited the productivity of imperiled salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne on Wednesday signed the document his Office of Species Conservation brokered with federal, tribal and private partners such as ranchers.

It also provides participating landowners some assurances of protection from federal enforcement of the Endangered Species Act while conservation measures take place on their property.

"This agreement and its predecessor, the Lemhi River Agreement, demonstrate Idaho's commitment to the conservation of fish and fish habitat," Kempthorne said at the Challis event. "When you talk about salmon and steelhead conservation in the upper Salmon, you have to recognize the private landowners are the key."

In 2001, a similar agreement with irrigators in the Lemhi River Basin resulted in more than 100 conservation projects. The latest pact will be more of the same on the upper Salmon, said Jim Caswell, director of the Office of Species Conservation.

"The kind of things we expect to happen in the short term are screens on diversions; there are a lot of small diversions of one or two cubic feet per second," he said. "We expect riparian improvements, fencing, some roadwork and reconnecting streamflows."

Some water diversions may be combined into one diversion to improve the streamflow for the fish, he said.

The Bonneville Power Administration provided millions of dollars for the Lemhi River work. Caswell said the latest projects would likely receive some Bonneville funds.

Other federal sources are possible, he said, including the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund. Over the years, Idaho has missed out on millions of dollars from the fund, which went instead to Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the Columbia River treaty tribes.

The Senate Appropriations Committee supports Idaho receiving $5 million from that source.

"The funding we have diligently labored on for salmon recovery will find a good home with these projects and I congratulate those on the Lemhi and Salmon rivers who are involved with the demonstration projects benefiting both ranchers and anadromous fish," said Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho.

The governors of Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana support restoring the Northwest salmon runs through improvements to habitat and hatchery operations and harvest limitations without breaching four lower Snake River dams. Environmentalists contend opening those dams is the only sure way of saving the runs.

Associated Press
Idaho Signs Conservation Pact
Idaho State Journal, October 10, 2003

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