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Know the West

Comment on the Idaho Statesman's editorial series


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to an essay, "An Idaho daily breaches the Northwest's silence over tearing down dams."

The Idaho Statesman's July editorial series on saving salmon signals that this long-unresolved issue in Pacific Northwest politics has become critical. The Statesman's support for a radical change - breaching four earthen dams on the Lower Snake River to restore free salmon habitat - isn't as important as the fact that a drastic solution is getting attention.

"What was viewed as a crazy idea from the fringe is now a topic of serious public discussion," says Pat Ford, of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition in Boise. "The (salmon) issue is coming front and center. The debate is going to be deep and intense."

And that, as Statesman editorial writer Susan Whaley explains, was the objective of the paper's series - "to put the debate in the limelight." Her paper's editorials are especially significant because they appeared in a Gannett-owned paper in Boise, a conservative paper with a circulation of 64,000 in a very conservative state.

The debate has been energized by the on-going extinction of one salmon species after another. After the recent addition of some Washington state steelhead runs to the endangered species list, Washington Gov. Gary Locke warned of new listings at an Aug. 11 news conference. "This is just the beginning," he said. "Virtually every community, urban and rural, will be affected."

The Statesman may have led the region's two largest newspapers, the Portland Oregonian and the Seattle Times, to confront this issue with their own major stories and editorials. The Times and Oregonian, however, opposed breaching or removing dams. The Oregonian's suggestion was to set up another layer of bureaucracy, "an autonomous regional management council," to focus efforts to save salmon on the Columbia River system.

Still, they did look broadly at the issue and concluded the status quo is not working.