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Save salmon now, say Ex-Northwest governors

August 5, 2009 | 12:54 pm

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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."

-- Kim Murphy

Photo credit: Jeff T. Green / Getty Images

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