Northwest governors meet on salmon recovery strategy

June 5, 2003

By Associated Press
The Missoulian


BOISE, Idaho - Four Northwest governors met Thursday to map out a salmon recovery strategy that balances fish and economic interests without breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

Montana Gov. Judy Martz, Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Washington Gov. Gary Locke and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski intended to use the closed-door session to build on the consensus the four states reached three years ago.

"It's important for the four governors to be working together for fish, wildlife, affordable power and ultimately a stronger economy for our individual states," Locke said before the meeting.

In 2000, the governors skirted the issue of dam breaching because then-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber supported the concept. Oregon's current governor agrees with his counterparts that recovery can occur at the same time the regional economy is stimulated, said Kulongoski adviser Jim Myron.

The summit comes a month after a federal judge threw out the government's existing plan for managing the Columbia and Snake river basins because it failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

That plan, mirroring the governors' 2000 agreement, focused on restoring the Northwest salmon runs by improving habitat and hatchery operations as well as harvest limitations without breaching dams. Federal officials said 2 1/2 years ago that dam breaching would again be discussed toward the end of the decade if the current approach failed.

Kempthorne and the other governors said they were not prepared to abandon that strategy, and he said the federal court's objections to it were technicalities.

"We have been on the ground, making significant improvements," Kempthorne said. "I'm not going to stop and halt action that has had an effect. I'm going to stay the course."

U.S. District Judge James A. Redden ordered the federal government to rewrite the plan and then gave it a year to adjust hydroelectric dam operations to better protect wild fish in the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Since Redden's ruling, conservationists and four Northwest tribes have insisted on reopening the debate over breaching the four dams in eastern Washington. Short of that, the tribes and environmental groups want changes in dam operations to restore stronger and more natural river flows for the fish.

Salmon recovery activist Ed Chaney says revitalizing the region's economy and restoring the fish runs are not mutually exclusive, arguing that breaching the dams would actually be an economic boon to the region.

However, the governors have maintained their commitment to the use of hydroelectric power system.


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