07/1999 Legislative Update

Published July 1, 1999


Senator Slade Gorton (R-Washington) is once again trying to link appropriations for blowing up the Elwha Dam in western Washington with protection for all other dams in the Snake and Columbia river system. Interior Department officials have hinted they may be willing to strike a deal. Opposition to dynamiting the dams was strong enough that some 10,000 people showed at a February “Save the Dams” rally in the Tri Cities of Yakima, Walla Walla, and Richland.

Trust for “deals” is probably low, however. Representative George Nethercutt (R-Washington) is “fearful” that the Clinton Administration will take another tack . . . taking down non-federal dams in Washington. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt has refused to say the administration will seek congressional permission before doing so. Babbitt has said dam removal on the main Snake and Columbia rivers isn’t a pet project of his, but he told House Appropriations Interior subcommittee members that many of the 75,000 dams higher than five feet “clearly ought to come down.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can order non-federal dams it licenses destroyed–without permission from Congress or local officials.

U.S. Magistrate Bart Erickson has ruled that dumping water from Montana dams to aid endangered salmon, which conflicts with flow timing plans to help rare sturgeon and threatened Dolly Varden trout, violates the Northwest Power Act. Robbing Montana to pay downstream states has been a BIG bone of contention . . . now things will be even more fun.


In a “strong statement” issued February 9, Washington Governor Gary Locke said he “can’t imagine any argument” for blowing up the Snake River dams. Locke also posited that he wants the state to create a strong salmon recovery plan (based on science and cost-benefit analysis) in order to prevent a federal takeover. Good luck, guv.

The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund filed suit March 3 to force the listing of southern Oregon and northern California steelhead trout as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That would deep-six the feds’ policy of delaying protection of the fish while state conservation plans are being created. ELDF Mike Sherwood says the ESA doesn’t allow listing delays if state conservation efforts are “voluntary or unimplemented.”

Meantime, Seattle has budgeted $255 million ($475 per resident) to revive dwindling chinook salmon in the city. Seattle will join other Puget Sound local governments to pitch their plan to the National Marine Fisheries Service, hoping to avert tough new laws to protect the chinook when it is listed as endangered in April.


BLM has announced that fees for grazing public lands will remain at $1.35 per animal unit month in 1999, due to a “small decline” in prices and a “small increase” in private lease and production costs. That might be “small consolation” to grazers now facing “invasive species” Executive Order 13112, signed by President Clinton on February 3. Invasive species are “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

Although most folks recognize bindweed, cheatgrass, carp, spurge, kudzu, and zebra mussels as “alien species,” domestic livestock and introduced sport fish species are not specifically excluded from an “invasive” categorization. The government will not “authorize, fund, or carry out actions” that are “likely” to spread problems. An Invasive Species Council is to be set up, to report back in 18 months.

Grizzly Bears

The latest news from Fish and Wildlife’s interagency grizzly bear team on potential de-listing of Yellowstone bears is that the proposal will be released soon. The usual Green suspects are pounding the feds for even thinking of such heresy, while realists are making the point that the future of bear management lies in the hands of the governments and citizens of the region–not in the hands of political loose cannons like Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.


More on the Denali snowmachine ban: the Alaska Senate voted 18-2 to oppose the one-year closure, but the Park Service is planning to enforce the ban with dog-sled patrols. If busted, riders face $5,000 in fines and six months in the slammer. A countersuit is being filed by Alaska recreationists. To help, visit www.sledcity.com.

In a concurrent move, the so-called Bluewater Alliance (65 Green groups) called for a total ban on snowmachines in 28 National Park units, including Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks. They called on OSHA to investigate carbon monoxide risks to riders and park workers, EPA to set water and air pollution rules for snowmachines, and other agencies to study the “high” accident rates among riders. Never mind that, for example, in Rocky Mountain National Park, only one road is open with a radar-enforced 35 mph speed limit.

What’s the deal? According to Bluewater member Biodiversity Legal Foundation spokesperson Jasper Carlton: “We want snowmobiling out of the National Parks. The Forest Service is next. When they refuse, we are going to sue them.”


In what is probably the ultimate odd-fellows combination, Representatives Lois Capps (D-California), Mary Bono (R-California), Peter Fazio (D-Oregon), Merrill Cook (R-Utah), and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Missouri) introduced the Forest Tax Relief Act, which will put the kibosh on the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. As recreation services cost the Forest Service $355 million per year, versus timber “losses” of $88 million, the pressure to pay-for-play is unmistakable, especially in areas where overuse is causing problems that foresters lack funds to mitigate. However, the pilot program (in 67 units) has resulted in a mishmash of nickel-and-dime fees that add up, not just in monetary terms, but in annoyance.

Utah Land Grab, Part XX

The Utah Association of Counties is pursuing its case that President Clinton exceeded his authority in designating the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Federal government attorney Mike Gheleta argued in U.S. District Court March 9 that even if the President did, Congress has permitted it through default by agreeing to fund the monument. Turns out there’s a pretty good pile of case law supporting Gheleta’s argument.

Further, the State of Utah dropped its own suit against the feds when Bruce Babbitt handed over that $50 million check to settle the state trust lands issue. But default–or “implied congressional ratification”–may lead to a ruling from Judge Dee Benson that the President’s stunt is therefore of no legal consequence.

Representatives Jim Hansen and Chris Cannon (both R-Utah) are the only congressmen with something to gain by taking a principled stand. In the meantime, comments have closed on alternative management plans for the new monument. Locals seem to be supporting the “No Action” alternative, while outside Greens support the most restrictive option.


As gray wolves are prospering, the debate is now shifting to whether or not animal rights extremists will allow populations to be de-listed and managed using lethal means. Minnesota wolves are at four times the target population, while Pacific Northwest wolves are right at the target numbers. If you doubt that management is vitally needed, we’ve posted the most outrageous wolf story to our Web site (http://www.pfw.org), about the trouble on one Montana ranch this winter.