Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Save "Noah's" Ark for Salmon?

The ark is critical because most of the job of bringing salmon through warming must be done by salmo

Pat Ford, of Boise, is executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition.


Wood River Valley people will pay more attention to global warming, and wield more influence for solutions, than anyone else in Idaho. Among the reasons are self-interest, civic energy, and throw-weight beyond Idaho. The Green Your Scene lectures the week of March 10, in conjunction with 48 Straight, were an example.

I am convinced the task we face, at global, national and local scales, is two-fold: stop and then reverse the rise in carbon emissions causing warming, and bring what is most precious through the warming that has begun. I believe we must tackle these tasks together, or we will fail at both. So, as you act on global warming, I urge you give high priority to the ark in your backyard.

Your valley lies on the edge of what I call "Noah's Ark for Salmon." I hope you agree that wild Pacific salmon are one precious thing which should come through warming—for the creatures themselves, for all they mean to Western culture and heritage, and because if salmon come through warming, so will some good measure of healthy waters.

There is growing scientific consensus that Snake River salmon habitats are a critical anchor—in the 48 states, likely the most critical—to assure salmon and steelhead come through warming. Central Idaho holds by far the highest, coldest, healthiest, vastest, most intact and best-protected salmon habitat left in the 48 states. While global warming will harm these habitats, it is likely to harm them less than lower-elevation, already-fragmented habitats that will both warm more and fragment more as human numbers double in coming decades.

The ark is critical because most of the job of bringing salmon through warming must be done by salmon themselves, as they self-adapt to warming-induced changes in their habitats. Idaho's vast well-connected habitats are the indispensable matrix for that self-adapting. The adaptive capacity of salmon and trout was created by the marriage of fish and habitat; we must keep that marriage together so salmon can have the best chance to bring themselves through global warming.

Of course, this ark for salmon is also an ark for wolves, bears, many less-glamorous critters, and for the wildness itself of which the ark is made.

Noah had two jobs: build the ark, and gather creatures into it. This ark is already built. But as most of you are aware, gathering salmon into their ark will not be easy. It requires removing the four lower Snake dams downstream. With that action, many more salmon will reach their ark to use it for their journey through warming.

The small but not insignificant electricity from those dams must be replaced from non-carbon sources. Doing so thus becomes part of the parallel Northwest challenge to phase out our carbon-based electricity and meet all new growth with energy efficiency and clean renewable energy. This is possible if we more than double the region's current targets for efficiency and renewables.

The key for both the energy and salmon challenges is federal policy. Federal agencies that generate half the Northwest's electricity must, under a new president, at least double our region's clean energy goals and start work to remove the lower Snake dams. (If the feds set this energy goal, for many reasons private utilities like Idaho Power will likely follow suit.) I hope Wood River Valley residents will do what they can to promote these two goals as a package to a new administration of either party. Doing them both is critical to stopping global warming and bringing what we most care about it through it, together.

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