Oregon Governor seeks stakeholder-driven salmon solutions

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber yesterdayannounced his commitment to a new, inclusive stakeholder dialogue to end decades of legal stalemate over endangered wild salmon recovery in the Snake River basin.

This is great news for Idaho salmon, and it’s an opportunity for Idahoans to encourage their elected leaders to help lead toward solutions to this 20-years-and-counting endangered species issue that’s vital to the state’s economy, ecology, people and heritage. Please click here to write your elected leaders in Idaho and encourage them to support collaborative, stakeholder-driven solutions to our region’s ongoing decline of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

In his Sunday, Sept. 23, guest opinion published in The Oregonian (posted online Saturday) Kitzhaber said the time for collaborative talks has arrived.

“We are a region with an identity and a fate inextricably bound to that of our salmon and steelhead,” wrote Kitzhaber. “We know where 20 years of litigation has gotten us … We can do better if, over the next year, our region can work out how to manage our Columbia as a river rather than simply preparing for yet another visit to the courtroom.”

Kitzhaber’s call for collaboration echoes sentiments previously expressed by senior Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Sen. Jim Risch. It also follows the Aug. 2, 2011, ruling by a federal judge in Portland, Ore., that the government’s salmon recovery plan was, like its predecessors, illegal. It must be rewritten by Jan. 1, 2014.

IRU board member Tom Stuart said Kitzhaber’s proposal is a welcomed new tack in the legal and political discussions that have surrounded wild salmon recovery in the Columbia-Snake Basin.

“Pacific salmon states have been in litigation over federal dams and wild salmon in the Columbia Basin for two decades,” Stuart said. “The federal government’s failure to craft an effective and legal recovery blueprint has wasted too much time already. And the Bonneville Power Administration’s failure to consult seriously with key stakeholders, including fishing and conservation groups, the Nez Perce tribe and the state of Oregon underscores the need for a new approach.”

Kitzhaber does not stand alone. With his appeal for a stakeholder process, he joined other political leaders who have called for collaborative talks, but he also joined more than 1,140 businesses from across the country who in August 2011 wrote President Obama to ask for stakeholder talks to be convened. In November, a bipartisan group of 52 members of the U.S. House of Representatives also asked Obama to begin settlement talks.

It’s a call that sits well with Gary Lane, who owns Wapiti River Guides in Riggins, Idaho.

“In Riggins, the economy ebbs and flows depending on how the fish return,” Lane said. “This is great news for towns like Riggins, where anything we can do to restore wild salmon is a much needed shot in the arm for our economy.”

The Columbia and Snake River Basin was once the most productive salmon and steelhead watershed in the world, with up to 30 million fish returning annually to spawn. They nourished an entire ecosystem and were at the center of Pacific Northwest cultures and economies. Nearly half of those fish began and ended their lives in the Snake River and its tributaries in central Idaho, southeast Washington and northeast Oregon.

But dams and habitat destruction have pushed salmon to the brink of extinction. Today, less than 1 percent of that historical abundance remains, and all of Idaho’s remaining salmon — chinook, sockeye and steelhead — are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Further, this year’s adult salmon returns are down significantly with Idaho sockeye and summer chinook falling almost 70 percent from last year, and steelhead down about 50 percent so far.