Members of Congress ask President to convene salmon stakeholder talks

BOISE — More than 50 members of Congress today asked President Obama to convene stakeholder-driven, collaborative talks to help end 20 years of litigation over Idaho’s endangered wild salmon and steelhead.

In their letter, the bipartisan contingent of 52 House members asked the president to “help resolve long-standing issues surrounding the protection and restoration of salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.”

“This forum would bring together all stakeholders to develop scientifically-sound and fiscally-sustainable salmon recovery options for Congress and the Administration,” they wrote.

Neither Idaho congressman, Rep. Mike Simpson or Rep. Raul Labrador, signed the letter. 

Idaho’s two senators, however, have issued similar, independent calls for collaboration on the salmon issue. Sen. Mike Crapo called for a similar process during a Boise speech in May 2009, and Sen. Jim Risch pointed out the benefits of a collaborative approach in a guest opinion published with Trout Unlimited’s president in The Oregonian on Nov. 6.

“We’re thrilled to see more members of Congress join the calls from our Idaho senators, and others, in seeking broadly-supported solutions for our endangered salmon,” said Idaho Rivers United Executive Director Bill Sedivy. “The fish can’t afford another decade of legal wrangling, and collaboration promises the surest avenue to resolve this issue.”

With bipartisan support from lawmakers representing 23 states and territories, Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., Tom Petri, R-Wis., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., spearheaded the letter. Their hope is to bring together all parties with a stake in salmon restoration to create a broad-based, collaborative process that explores and identifies real salmon recovery solutions. The letter follows another recent letter from nearly 1,200 American business leaders calling for a new approach to salmon restoration.

“We’re overdue for a new approach to address the challenges that face the nation’s iconic Pacific salmon and the communities and businesses that rely on this resource,” McDermott said. “We know the Obama administration understands the importance of dealing with this issue, and now after decades of uncertainty it’s time for them to step up and bring stakeholders together to solve this problem.”

On Aug. 2, the U.S. District Court in Portland ruled the current Columbia Basin salmon recovery blueprint illegal. It’s the fourth federal salmon plan to be invalidated by the courts over three presidential administrations. Two decades of illegal plans have done little for salmon and have cost U.S. taxpayers billions.

“We believe that working alongside one another will allow representatives of diverse interests to craft a blueprint that resolves this long-standing debate in a manner that yields abundant salmon runs, thousands of new jobs, vibrant rural economies, an improved transportation system, new sources of clean and affordable energy, and a reduced burden on taxpayers,” the letter said. “Salmon have long supported the economic and cultural vitality of the Northwest and the nation, and we must, in turn, support the continued strength of this precious resource.”