Tom Arrandale is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
Pacific Northwest governors have agreed on recommendations for how federal and state agencies should work together to restore Columbia River salmon populations.
Democrats John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Gary Locke of Washington, along with Republicans Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho and Marc Racicot of Montana, staked out an unprecedented regional position by concurring on a number of measures to replenish river flows and aquatic habitat.
"The region has stepped up and is now speaking with one voice," Kitzhaber says. The governors suggested changing how dams are operated, protecting streamside habitat, augmenting river flows at critical times, managing fishing harvests and rethinking how hatcheries are used to supplement wild salmon populations.
Following through will require substantial federal outlays. By establishing a common regional position, however, the governors may clear the way for the Northwest's influential congressional delegation to come up with the funds.
The governors agreed to disagree, at least for now, on the biggest controversy of all--a proposal to re-open the Snake River for fish by bypassing four federal dams in eastern Washington. Kitzhaber has endorsed breaching the dams, but that idea "is just not on the table at this point," Kempthorne noted. Despite differences over the dams, the governors decided they should nonetheless proceed with other proposals they can all accept for bringing salmon back.
Environmentalists scoffed at the governors' initiative, insisting that salmon can't be saved unless the dams are bypassed.
The governors did tackle other contentious issues, notably whether river flows should be augmented by diverting water from agriculture. They agreed to support state law changes to let governments buy water rights from volunteer sellers and leave the water instream.