If Sen. James McClure has his way, a proposal to add five snail species found only in southern Idaho to the endangered list will move very, very slowly.
But officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which made the recommendation to protect the snails, contend McClure's concerns about the proposed listing are unfounded.A spokesman for McClure office said the senator wants to make sure the service doesn't rush into things and list the snails needlessly.
The Republican senator, who will retire in a month, says the snails, if protected, could hamper hydroelectric developments proposed for the Snake River and Box Canyon, which joins the river just north of Buhl.
Carl Haywood, McClure's natural resources specialist, said the senator fears activists may use the snails issue as an excuse to stop agriculture in southern Idaho.
But Fish and Wildlife officials said that's unlikely. The service sent its recommendation to list the snails to the federal Department of the Interior.
Recommended for protected status are the Bliss Rapids snail, the Utah valvata snail, the Snake River physa snail, the Idaho spring snail and the Banbury Springs limpet.
All five species are found only in the cool, clear, free-flowing waters of a 40-mile stretch of the Snake in the Thousand Springs area or in large adjacent springs, biologists said.
Idaho Power Co. and the city of Tacoma have applied for permits with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a hydroelectric dam at the A.J. Wiley site between Hagerman and Bliss.
Another dam has been proposed at the Dike site below the Bliss Dam. And Boise developer Earl Hardy wants to build a small power plant in Box Canyon and a diversion to take water out of the canyon to a commercial trout hatchery in neighboring Blind Canyon.
"The projects as proposed would essentially eliminate the species' last remaining habitat and would justify putting them on the endangered species list," said Jay Gore, Fish and Wildlife's endangered species director for Idaho.
Under the federal Endangered Species Act, the potential destruction of habitat is a reason to protect a species.
The snails are candidates for the endangered species list because of possible water quality problems affecting their survival.
But Haywood contends Fish and Wildlife hasn't shown that water quality is a problem. And dams are only proposals, he said.
"If they're not built, the listing is not necessary," Haywood said. "If dams are licensed, Fish and Wildlife can file for an emergency listing."
The Endangered Species Act was meant to preserve species, not to preserve habitat that may not be necessary, Haywood said.
"If the dams would destroy the snails' habitat, perhaps other suitable habitat could be found," Haywood said.
The proposed dams are not only reason to list the snails, just the most immediate, Fish and Wildlife officials said. If the agency waits until it knows everything there is to know about a species before taking action, it may be too late, the officials said.
David Klinger, Fish and Wildlife spokesman in Portland, Ore., said development can go on if a species is put on the endangered list.