Petitions to classify four Idaho salmon species as endangered should be viewed as an opportunity, not a threat to the state's economic well-being, Gov. Cecil Andrus says.
"It has been clear for some time that our once-productive salmon runs are in serious trouble," the governor said. "We have no choice but to reverse that ominous trend."The state unveiled its new "Strategies for Recovery of Snake River Salmon," a 31-page booklet with salmon-colored covers. It's Idaho's response to the petitions and contains recommendations on how to save the endangered species.
Andrus said Idahoans should accept as inevitable that the four species will receive endangered or threatened species protection, which many contend could have enormous economic ramifications for the state.
The state strategy seeks to prevent extinction of the salmon runs, but says, "Idaho will not assume total responsibility or the total cost for providing a solution."
It also states Idaho water must be protected, regional hydropower resources and electric ratepayers must be protected and salmon fishing restored in Idaho.
Because of dwindling salmon spawning runs, there hasn't been a general salmon season in Idaho since 1977.
The state document says the major problem with salmon is the fact most smolt migrating downstream are killed when they attempt to go through or over federal power dams. It states the major possible solutions are changes in the way the dams are operated, to increase survival rates of migrating salmon.
"To improve mainstem passage when juvenile fish are migrating to the ocean, the state recommends the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operate its four lower Snake River and mainsteam Columbia River dams to increase water velocity, decrease migration time to the ocean and get fish past the dams.
"A longer-term solution may have to involve a redesign of fish-collection facilities and fish ladders at each dam," the state said.
Andrus said that will take higher flows through the dams, but all the water can't come from Idaho. He said the state suggests higher velocity through the dams in a critical two-month period in the spring when most smolt are trying to get through the dams.
An increased 140,000 cubic feet per second through the federal dams over a two-month period translates into 16 million acre-feet of water - more than the entire storage capacity in Idaho, Andrus said.
"Idaho is part of the solution, but we are not going to give up our water," the governor said.
Andrus said he felt Idahoans might not oppose slightly higher power rates to protect salmon but again stressed that if economic sacrifices are to be made, Idaho should not be the only Pacific Northwest state to make them.
The state opposes the endangered species petition, but Andrus said they could be a positive factor, because they will force federal agencies and other groups to do something instead of just calling for more studies.
The state's suggestions urge restrictions on downstream salmon harvest. That's long been a sore point with Idaho, which has lost lawsuits seeking to restrict downstream fishing to allow more salmon to spawn in Idaho.
Those legal battles started 15 years ago, when Andrus was Idaho's governor before resigning to become Interior secretary. "Losing one battle doesn't mean we lose the war," Andrus said.