Chenoweth Tries To Give Fisheries Service The Boot
The National Marine Fisheries Service will get out of the salmon-protection business in Idaho if U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth has her way.
“NMFS has been one of the most obstinate, ineffective agencies for land management,” the Idaho Republican told reporters in Boise on Friday.
Activities such as logging, mining and grazing can harm streams where salmon spawn. The fisheries service has responsibility for fish habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
To change that in Idaho, Chenoweth tacked two sentences onto the Department of Commerce Dismantling Act.
The Department of Commerce includes the fisheries service.
One sentence that Chenoweth inserted into the House bill would transfer all fisheries service functions to a proposed Interior Department agency, dubbed the National Institute for Science and Technology.
The second sentence takes away NMFS’ authority over salmon-related land management decisions in Idaho.
The anti-Commerce act itself is tacked onto the House budget bill, which this week is being reconciled with the Senate version.
The act may be removed from the budget bill, said Chenoweth aide Kris Bershers. But Chenoweth hopes it will find another way into law.
The notion dismays environmental activists.
“Rep. Chenoweth’s legislation would allow Idaho’s salmon and steelhead to be protected everywhere but Idaho … she is trying to slip it in at the last minute, hoping no one notices,” said Charles Ray of Idaho Rivers United.
Brian Gorman, NMFS spokesman in Seattle, wouldn’t comment specifically on Chenoweth’s proposal.
“There certainly is strong sentiment in both the Senate and the House in making changes to the Endangered Species Act, although exempting a particular state is a fairly novel move,” he said.
The Senate dropped similar legislation dismantling the Department of Commerce.
As an example of NMFS interference in her state, Chenoweth noted that it took the agency two years to approve a road-use permit in the Payette National Forest. Without the permit, owners of the Stibnite Mine would not be able to operate nor contain toxic mine tailings.
The delay was indeed frustrating, said Jim Egnew of the Payette Forest staff.
But Egnew, the mineral projects manager in McCall, said the situation was more complex than Chenoweth painted it.
“Two years is a long time,” he said. “But the issue was more than just the road permit. It was for the actual mining itself.”
At the same time, the Stibnite Mine was being proposed for listing as a Superfund toxic cleanup site.
“All of this was dumped on NMFS at once,” Egnew said. “It was a huge project.”
Last week, NMFS joined the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in criticizing a sale of fire-damaged timber on national forest land near the South Fork of the Salmon River.