For the week of May 25, 1999  thru June 1, 1999  

California congressman sees hope for breaching dams

Good science will prevail in efforts to save the salmon


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

To save Snake River salmon and steelhead, people at grass roots levels will have to engage in conservation efforts with the same intensity and vigor that those who tamed the West in the first place did.

That was an irony U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. pointed out to over 150 conservationists, government agency personnel and local officials at the Idaho Conservation League’s "Wild Idaho!" conference at Redfish Lake on Saturday night.

"At the beginning of the century, settlers wanted to make the desert bloom, divert water hundreds of miles and dam the Grand Canyon," Miller said. "They had vision.

"You’re engaged in something that’s terribly important, but you have to do it with the same kind of vision that those people at the beginning of the century did."

The obvious paradox Miller underscored was that the same kind of innovative thinking that pioneers used to build dams will be needed to breach the lower Snake River dams and therefore save salmon and steelhead runs.

Miller should know. He spearheaded efforts to pass a bill that changed the Central Valley Project in California—a major water project that diverted water to California’s Central Valley to benefit agriculture.

Now, some of that water will be returned to fish and wildlife habitat and to American Indians. It was a crack in California’s water management policy.

The bill was accepted by one of the most powerful agricultural industries in the country, Miller said. The conflicts over water were negatively affecting business and therefore prompted voters on all sides to vote for the bill.

Change in mindsets is underway elsewhere, too. In Arizona, Utah and Florida, water projects are being dismantled in efforts to restore river systems to their original states.

In the Everglades, dikes and levies have been taken out and torn down. Rivers that had been straightened will again meander, Miller said.

"It’s all started in rooms like this," he said. "Good science will overcome.

"I’ve seen it all before and in each and every instance, (science) overcame the political system."

But some say the Snake River is different. Miller said he heard at the ICL conference that there are too many politics and politicians, conservation issues and right-wing conservationists,

"People aren’t very different," he retorted. "All want to show their kids great salmon runs.

"I have great confidence in politicians. It can be a pain sometimes—you people can drive me crazy…but in this case a positive outcome will result."

Science will prove to people that they can elect to reclaim an ecosystem like the lower Snake River and its dwindling salmon and steelhead runs, Miller said.

The ICL’s job is to make people realize that the other choice is for the ecosystem to wane. No one, especially politicians, likes to be associated with decline, he said.

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"Idaho is a very, very special place," ICL board president Jerry Pavia said Saturday evening.

This was what the three-day "Wild Idaho!" conference was all about. It was about loving and preserving a place that holds a special meaning in the hearts of those who visit or live in it.

Scholars call the elusive feeling "topophelia"—"love of place." For ICL executive director Rick Johnson, it’s not something found in a textbook. It’s about walking outside and experiencing what the wilderness has to offer.

He described his experiences from Saturday morning.

Redfish Lake’s early waters were smooth, glassy, he said, and he paddled his sea kayak through the serene and seemingly timeless ambiance of west Redfish Lake.

There, he found floating on the icy waters a tuft of down. He picked it up and held it in his hand. He felt the warmth; he felt the life.

That’s what it’s all about, he said. It’s about preserving the life in the land, preserving the life we have left. It’s about embracing the warmth of a cold, icy morning spent in a wild wilderness, spent in a Wild Idaho!

 

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