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For the week of Mar. 22 through Mar. 28, 2000

Salmon testimony hard to swallow


Bring on the Heimlich maneuver—Idaho’s leaders are going to need it.

More than 80 percent of people who testified in the recent Idaho hearings on salmon recovery came down on the side of breaching four lower Snake dams.

It wasn’t what was expected.

They came from all walks of life: farmers, foresters, fishermen, industrialists and erstwhile defenders of the Earth packed hearing rooms up and down the state to weigh in on the issue.

Funny. Since the hearings, the noise from Idaho’s staunchly anti-breaching congressional delegation and anti-breaching governor has died down.

They had been shaking their rhetorical fists at the insult about to be perpetrated on the state. They championed the Port of Lewiston and cheap power, and decried the "interference" of the federal government in its own dams.

They desperately tried to manufacture middle ground—options like killing salmon-gobbling terns on the Columbia River and inventing fish-friendly turbines. They tried hard to be on both sides at once. They claimed to be the voice of all Idahoans.

Now whose side are they on?

Silent Majority excuses for the pro-breaching testimony are surfacing, but it’s going to be hard to make them stick.

The hearing testimony left Idaho’s anti-breaching officials with a choice of facts: either Idaho’s conservation groups have grown incredibly powerful and incredibly good at organizing people to turn out for hearings, or Idahoans really support dam breaching as the best alternative for salmon recovery.

They can’t blame the manner in which the hearings were conducted. Hearing moderators repeatedly warned audiences that they were looking for technical information the federal agencies may have overlooked, not taking an opinion poll. They said they wanted only new information and that mere opinions would not count.

It was a fine attempt at objectivity, but it did not wash. Idaho’s elected officials long ago politicized the death of the state’s salmon legacy, and audiences knew it.

The potential extinction of the magnificent creatures in Idaho stirred deep reactions. People drove long distances to attend hearings. They tolerated hour-long explanations of studies and government processes before testimony began. They waited in line into the wee hours of the morning to offer up opinions on dam breaching—whether the moderators wanted to hear them or not. They knew others were watching—and keeping score.

Idaho’s congressional delegation now has a big problem. Sens. Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and Reps. Helen Chenoweth-Hage and Mike Simpson somehow must reconcile the overwhelming pro-breaching testimony with their positions.

Smoked salmon, anyone?

 

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