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Legislators question salmon plan

Posted: Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 3:33 p.m. PDT

By Chris Thew
Omak Chronicle staff

 Olympia, WA - A representative from the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office met May 12 with members of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau and others to discuss concerns about the proposed Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Plan.

Sen. Bob Morton, R-Orient, and Reps. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, and Bob Sump, R-Republic, also attended the packed meeting at the Okanogan County PUD auditorium. Bob Bugert, a fish biologist, represented the salmon office.

The meeting was called between the two groups after Morton talked to state attorney general Rob McKenna about people in Okanogan County being disillusioned by the regional plan.

McKenna asked the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office to send a representative to talk with Okanogan County Farm Bureau members about their issues. Though many in the audience were members of the Farm Bureau, others from cattle, irrigation or other areas of interest attended as well.

Bugert explained to the legislators and the audience that the salmon office has taken a hands-off approach to allow the state's six regions to draw up the plans based on regional goals. He said the approach has worked well in some areas and badly in others.

He mentioned that Oregon, which also is involved in salmon recovery planning, is doing the plans at a state level.

"We are all totally burned out on salmon issues," Bugert said. "Our big goal has been to assist in getting recovery plans put together. We tried to get everyone involved."

 Bugert explained that the recovery office gave the regions the funding to deliver a plan on deadline and having public involvement.

The office "gave money to each region to do public outreach," Bugert said. "Each region did it differently."

Bugert, who assists the six regions, explained that other recovery planning boards in the state have had large citizen involvement, along with representatives from counties and tribes.

 Some municipalities have had representation in other recovery plans as well, according to Bugert.

The Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board is made up of one representative each from Okanogan, Chelan and Douglas counties and one representative each from the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Yakama Nation. Okanogan County commissioner Bud Hover is county's representative.

 "We could have done the process in a month," said Bugert. "We wanted to give the locals a chance and that's why we had regions. Counties have statutory authority. That is why we pushed for local input."

Kretz said he was concerned with exactly who would define the term "harvestable" concerning salmon.

The proposed Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Plan, at the last public showing, calls for the targeted fish to be "viable and harvestable."

The federal Endangered Species Act, on which the recovery plans were originally based, calls for "viable and sustainable," according to Kretz.

"I asked where it was coming from," Kretz said. "We're committing 80 to 90 years to a goal we don't even know yet."

Sump also expressed concern about the term "harvestable" and what he believes is an escalation of terms.

"Every time we achieve a level, the board gets raised," Sump said. "We are already exceeding the Endangered Species Act."

Morton said he was upset about a plan put out by the Puget Sound board called "Salmon Recovery for Washington State." He asked Bugert to take a message back to the governor to require regional plans to be for each region.

Morton also wanted to see documents show their origin. He said he believes the governor's office should issue general statements, not specific regions.

"Every time the group turns around there's new criteria," Morton said. "I'll be damned if we want our watershed controlled by Puget Sound."

Kretz indicated he is deeply troubled by what he believed were outside interests deciding what is best for Okanogan County. He said comments from Okanogan County residents have been left out.

"It's a predetermined end that's pushed upon local people," Kretz said. "Its deliberately hidden from the people who are most affected."

Kretz expressed the sentiment of many in the audience by calling on Bugert to explain what citizens can do to have their voices heard.

"If we were going to come up with a flawed plan, the person writing the checks should have said 'hold on,' " Kretz said. "How far up the ladder do we have to go to get things changed?"

Sump was concerned that only landowners were being targeted, especially in Okanogan County.

 "We can't just look at land use and habitat," Sump said. "If we're going to have one Washington, we need to start when the fish leave Alaska."

Sump said he was upset that values had not been placed on all factors of the plan. He said he felt the habitat section of the plan, which many people attending the meeting indicated would affect them the most, was being considered the largest factor.

Out of the four factors - hydropower, harvest, hatchery and habitat - Bugert agreed with Sump and said hydropower always would be the largest factor.

"We need to look at a good model," Sump said. "If we don't have a value system, we can't just lay it on habitat."

At the end of the meeting, Morton, Kretz and Sump all agreed to try and organize a meeting with the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, Farm Bureau members and other Okanogan County residents. No date has been set.

Morton called on the Okanogan County Farm Bureau, along with other groups and individuals at the meeting, to meet again to discuss talking points before a possible meeting with the recovery board.

Sump asked Morton and Kretz to get involved in conference calls to NOAA Fisheries' Northwest regional office administrator Bob Lohn and Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.



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