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Sun., June 24, 2012

Salmon rules come up short

Rep. Doc Hastings is angry at how the Endangered Species Act has been used for Columbia and Snake river salmon. As a native of Eastern Washington and the second-generation president of a Spokane building contractor established in 1946, I am too. But, the congressman has misdiagnosed the problem, and solution.

In 2005, and again in 2011, the federal plan for endangered Columbia/Snake salmon was ruled illegal. Hastings blames those who filed the cases, and U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who made the rulings. I blame the government agencies that wrote two blatantly illegal plans that will not restore salmon for people.

On June 1, Hastings wrote to federal agencies warning that the verdicts could lead to “costly, closed-door settlements.” But that is exactly what the verdicts overturned. Federal agencies have spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in the last decade in a closed process, writing illegal plans to spend hundreds of millions more on actions that will still not restore salmon. These wasted millions are on top of $7 billion spent on wasted programs, including asinine salmon-smolt barging on the Snake.

I grew up in Eastern Washington fishing and hunting with my father on the Snake River Breaks, now under stagnant reservoirs. I find this government refusal to restore our wild salmon and steelhead heartbreaking. As a business owner and taxpayer, I’m appalled at the billions spent on half-hearted recovery programs by foot-dragging federal agencies.

Litigation should be a last option. But when federal agencies break the law by driving salmon to near extinction, are fishermen and fishing businesses just supposed to let them?

The facts are, litigation gets credit for most of the progress made for salmon. Since 2006, on Redden’s orders, more water was spilled over dams in the spring when young smolts are migrating out from their home rivers to the sea. This action has improved salmon survival markedly. The federal agencies oppose that spill, but tribal, business and conservation plaintiffs won it in court.

Hastings seems to want to narrow the right of citizens to hold government accountable in court. For salmon and people, there’s a better way: a science- guided stakeholder process in which fishermen and farmers, energy users and shippers, conservationists and businesses develop solutions together, in an open process, with support and leadership from Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

Such a process could assess the science of spill, dam removal and other recovery measures, along with the economic costs and benefits of these measures versus the status quo. And it could move beyond salmon alone to look at what our region needs for transportation, clean energy and strong local economies over the long term. In the last few years, we’ve seen similar processes reach solutions on rivers like the Elwha, Klamath, Rogue and White Salmon. We’ve seen similar talks begin for Eastern Washington national forests. Working from sound science and economic data, and with help from our senators and Gov. Chris Gregoire, we can do it on the Snake and Columbia, too.

Chris Kopczynski is the president of Kop Construction Co. Inc.

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