BPA Met with Static by County Residentsby Gina Knudson
Post Register, April 7, 2006
SALMON - Bonneville Power Administration officials weren't warmly received Thursday when they met with people about the fate of a group working to save salmon.
At the meeting, Bill Maslen, the agency's fish and wildlife program director, didn't back down from previous statements that indicate the Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Project office will lose its funding by the end of June. But the reasons Maslen provided to the city, county, state and federal government representatives gathered Thursday hinted at personality clashes and internal conflicts.
He said the BPA supports the Upper Salmon project "in concept" and agreed the group had done exemplary work in improving salmon habitat.
Still, he said: "There are issues here that we cannot let go. It is not a subject for public discussion. There's something deeper here. It's way bigger and more complicated than just BPA."
Losing staff support would make it nearly impossible to accomplish seemingly simple projects. Ranchers know that where endangered species are concerned, building fences or improving irrigation ditches can be a bureaucratic nightmare.
Bruce Mulkey runs his family ranch on the Lemhi. He watched in the 1970s when the fish declined after the lower Snake River dams went in. He was one of the first Lemhi ranchers in the 1980s trying to figure out what they could do to get them back.
He's been on the advisory board of the Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Project since its inception in 1992. And in 2006, he looks mad enough to chew barbed wire. He told Maslen he's tired of Bonneville administrators "micro-managing out of Portland."
"I don't know how the hell you can know what we're talking about if you haven't been on the ground," Mulkey said.
Like Mulkey, fellow rancher and watershed advisory board chairman Don Olson said the staff support has been key to the Upper Salmon's success in doing their part for fish recovery. "You can't just throw money at a bunch of ranchers like us and expect us to get these projects done," Olson said.
BPA officials have said they will still fund Upper Salmon projects but that the Lemhi and Custer County Soil and Water Conservation Districts can implement them. Currently, the districts each have a paid employee, neither of who is a biologist.
Salmon Mayor Stan Davis is alarmed that personality conflicts could unravel what he thinks is his community's good-faith effort to solve a regional problem.
"For me, personalities need to be set aside, and these parties need to think about fish, the water and the people that this all affects," Davis said.
Maslen tallied his notes from the three-hour drubbing he and two colleagues took from the unhappy crowd.
"So here it is - Bonneville disagrees with motherhood and apple pie," he snapped humorlessly.
Even so, the BPA's point man for fish and wildlife programming promised to meet with Idaho and Lemhi County officials to further discuss specific projects and the fate of the Upper Salmon Watershed office.
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