Courtesy of the Idaho Statesman and Native Fish Society
One fish, two fish, wild fish, zoo fish.
Or so goes the Bush administration's simplistic approach to counting rare salmon. It took a federal judge to remind the feds that there's a fundamental difference between a salmon reared in a hatchery and a salmon born in the wild that returns to spawn in its native habitat.
The difference can't be overstated. Wild fish will determine whether salmon will remain an icon that lives in our region and in our rivers. Without wild fish, salmon are doomed to live only in our memories.
Yet the feds have stuck to a whopper of an argument ‹ claiming, for purposes of salmon recovery, that hatchery fish and wild fish are one and the same.
Hatchery fish are weaker than wild fish. Hatchery-raised fish may not mirror the subtle but significant behavioral patterns that allow salmon to complete a remarkable life's journey, from mountain stream bed to hostile Pacific Ocean and back. These are the traits that make wild fish tougher and more valuable than their hatchery-raised brethren.
Even in promoting a "fish are fish" philosophy, the feds acknowledged the limited value of hatchery fish and said, in some rivers, the long-term consequences of stocking rivers with hatchery fish may offset the short-term benefits.
Of course, hatchery fish do serve a purpose, one more political than biological: Hatcheries boost salmon numbers. A rule of thumb, in Idaho, is 80 percent hatchery fish to 20 percent wild fish. Quintupling the salmon numbers has to be attractive to an administration determined to protect lower Snake River dams ‹ even at the expense of protecting the wild fish that must navigate around these dams.
In rejecting the feds' salmon-counting scheme Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour scored one in the column of common sense. Unfortunately, the legal record is mixed. Coughenour acknowledges his ruling runs counter to a 2001 federal court decision. A showdown before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appears inevitable.
Let's hope the appeals court backs up Coughenour, and as soon as possible.
We're six years into this debate, and counting. The feds are fighting to defend a Seussian system of fuzzy math, while Idaho's wild salmon fight a political current that pushes them a little closer to oblivion.
Typical of the Bush administrations "Good Stewardship of the environment" self-proclamation isn't it?
We have a bout eighteen months left of the national nightmare that is George W. Bush. Hopefully in January 2009 the country can start anew and begin to repair the damage what this immoral presidency has done to our fish and our natural resources.