With voice shaking and hand thumping the table, Ray Brady of Grangeville explained how a sawmill closure left him out of money and insurance, and training for a new job at age 50.
“I attribute it all to this species act,” he told U.S. senators considering ways to change the nation’s most powerful conservation law. “When the salmon is done, what are they going to dig up next?”
When Idaho Republican Sen. Dirk Kempthorne invited opinions on the Endangered Species Act he got an earful. Saturday’s four-hour subcommittee hearing included a motion and contradiction, speechmaking and statistics.
“You will hear many people today wail about lost jobs due to salmon,” said Mitch Sanchotena in strong testimony. “But the fact is the only people that have really lost jobs due to the salmon listings are fishermen and fishing-based business people.”
Sanchotena, coordinator of Idaho Salmon & Steelhead Unlimited, said group members see the act as the only hope to restore salmon.
At the other end of the spectrum was Darrell Kerby, president of the Bonners Ferry City Council. He gave strong support to a bill introduced by Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash. Among other big changes, it would allow hatchery population to be counted in the recovery of fish, such as Kootenai River sturgeon.
Gorton was at the head table. So were Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo.
Kempthorne was especially glad to have snagged for the event a person who will have a big say in any bill that reaches the Senate floor: John Chaffee, R-Vt., chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Chaffee didn’t offer hope for those among the 600 audience members who would like to throw out the law, saying “while the ESA will be amended, it is safe to say that it will not be repealed or gutted. Most Americans … support the conservation of fish and wildlife and maintenance of a healthy environment. However, they want our environmental laws to be less burdensome and more effective.”
It was a hot topic, and a humid day. Activities began with a parade, staged by people hoping for big changes in the act. As they rallied afterward on the lawn of the Ramada Inn, environmentalists assembled at a park across the street.
People in both camps clutched American flags. They showed their stripes in their lapel buttons and signs: “Extinction is forever” vs. “People are species too.”
One environmentalist distributed “Dump Helen” bumper stickers, aimed at Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth, a strong critic of the act. Chenoweth wasn’t around, but Craig spoke at the rally, telling workers that mills aren’t closing because of advanced technology but because “our government has gone wrong.”
Leaders on both sides of the street urged people to be respectful in the hearing although Kempthorne had to calm the audience after a few outbursts of applause and boos.
Kempthorne is chairman of the subcommittee on Drinking Water, Fisheries and Wildlife. He said 500 people asked to appear on panels organized for the hearing and “480 were disappointed.” He stayed overtime to allow others to talk.
Here’s a sample of the testimony:
“It is simply unreasonable that operation of hydroelectric dams is considered not to jeopardize the endangered fish runs while taking minimal numbers of fish for tribal ceremonial and subsistence purposes is held out as a possible threat to the same runs.” - Samuel Penney, Nez Perce tribe.
“The ESA may be too strict and too complex to allow even the most caring, informed users and managers to implement it. Where does it stop? It’s madness.” - Ron Gillett, outfitter.
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