Otter: Give Us Credit for
by Rocky Barker
Recovery efforts over the past 25 years may be paying off with a bigger run of chinook this year,
but controversial dam breaching is still part of the discussion.
Before Gov. Butch Otter is ready to start talks with those who want dams breached to save salmon, he wants them to acknowledge all the money that's been spent, the water sacrificed and the gains made.
Salmon advocates have long urged regional leaders to put dam breaching on the table, and U.S. District Judge James Redden urged similar consideration in court Friday. But Otter, who has led the state into a collaborative plan with the federal government, Washington, Montana and all of the Columbia tribes except Idaho's Nez Perce, turned the tables.
"There ought to be some recognition by them of what we've done, and they have to show they're willing to make some effort to restore these salmon runs with the dams in place," Otter said.
Otter said he was disappointed Redden didn't give the collaborative parties more credit for their successful efforts to develop a plan with an additional $1 billion of programs.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists predict near record returns of salmon and steelhead this spring, the result of colder conditions in the Pacific that kept warm-water predators south and increased food sources.
Otter and other regional officials with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council also attributed the improved runs to billions of dollars spent since the 1980s to improve salmon habitat and improve dam passage.
Salmon advocates do recognize the value of the habitat projects in places like Idaho's Pahsimeroi and Lemhi valleys, said Greg Stahl, who works on salmon programs for Idaho Rivers United.
"But Idaho has more intact habitat than anywhere in the region," Stahl said. "The problem is getting the fish to the habitat."
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