By CHRIS THOMAS
Washington News Service
SEATTLE - Federal agencies, conservation groups, fishermen and sportsmen, Native American tribes and dam managers have rarely all been in the same room – unless it's a courtroom – in the long battle over how to restore native salmon and steelhead populations in the Northwest. However, one leader in the region is voicing his official agreement with what conservation and business groups have been saying for years: that a whole new approach is needed to save the endangered fish species.
In an editorial, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber calls for all sides to sit down together at the negotiating table instead of in the courtroom.
Kitzhaber says the latest federal review of salmon numbers shows some species are not recovering quickly enough. At the Northwest Energy Coalition, Sara Patton says his vote of confidence in a roundtable approach is an important step toward making it happen.
“We're excited,” Patton said. “We think having Kitzhaber take this stand is going to help a lot of folks in the region say, ‘Yeah, this is worth it. It's time to do this, and we don't want to just keep on having the same old arguments in court.'”
Federal agencies have less than 18 months to improve or replace the last salmon recovery plan, called a biological opinion, that was already rejected in court. But whether a roundtable discussion of this magnitude can take place in the hectic weeks before a major election is anybody's guess.
Bill Arthur, deputy national field director for the Sierra Club, thinks it is possible.
“The federal agencies are, in fact, still doing work, still convening meetings on any number of issues all around the country,” Arthur said. “Other Northwest leaders, whether it's the governor of Washington or whether it's other U.S. senators, could also lend their voice. So actually, no, I don't think it does have to wait ‘til after the election.”
Kitzhaber points out that all sides in the long salmon debate are working on projects for habitat improvement. But after about two decades of legal battles, and three federal salmon plans that have been ruled illegal, he says there could be more collaboration.
A call to Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's office for her opinion was not returned by deadline.
Read Kitzhaber's editorial at www.oregonlive.com.