Hartgen: No One Wants To Be Labeled an Un-woke “Salmon Racist”

Hartgen: No One Wants To Be Labeled an Un-woke “Salmon Racist”

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Dam removal on the lower Snake River below Lewiston is once again in the news, with so-called “experts” like river enthusiasts, journalists and columnist Jim Jones all jumping in feet first to support breaching.

But it’s mostly speculation. There’s little evidence dam breaching would actually restore salmon runs. Indeed, factors like changing ocean temperature and fish migration patterns, ocean predators like orcas and seals, as well as Indian tribal net takings, are huge factors in the salmon’s declines.

But these aren’t on the dam-breachers’ radar, who’ve now taken to citing arm-chair journalists as their “authorities” for the pro-breaching argument.

Former Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, (Idahopoliticsweekly, Jan. 20), cites an article by hook-line-and-breacher Rocky Barker, a retired Idaho Statesman reporter, on how the only solution to saving the salmon is to breach the lower Snake dams.

Journoes rarely know, much less report on, the full range of discussion on any topic. That’s why they’re journoes after all, often with preferred agendas. They do this on many topics, from politics to environmental issues, to sociology, to history, so why not just leave out the “rest of the story” on salmon recovery?

Dam-breach advocates ought to know better, including those who grew up in Southern Idaho, on an irrigated farm made possible only due to agricultural water use and storage.

Neither Jones nor Barker gives so much as a seal flipper to the economic devastation dam breaching would have. Jones cites a figure of $17 billion spent so far ($17 billion!) on salmon recovery and seems to acknowledge that it’s been pretty much wasted money.

Most of this has gone into tribal pockets, so-called “habitat improvements” and reams of studies, but with almost no gain in actual recovery. So they0 now throws the fish, rods and reels back into the river, saying nothing but dam breaching will work. Not shown by the evidence. No “Which Was To Be Proved,” as lawyers say.

A little research would maybe modify this anti-agriculture view. A new study by University of Washington shows that killer whales, known as orcas, prefer larger salmon as food, thus reducing the returning numbers dramatically. (U of Washington, Dec., 2019). Sea lions (Once themselves considered “endangered.”) prey on salmon along the lower Columbia and devastate returning salmon stocks (Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, June, 2019).

And tribal fishing, both by dip nets and gill nets, is immune from politically-correct mention, much less seriously discussed by dam-breach advocates. (In another example of lefty virtue-signaling, notice how journoes never, ever scrutinize a protected/privileged minority group. Must be they’re afraid of being woked out as “salmon racists.”)

This goes on regularly as “tribal” fishermen routinely sell salmon out of the backs of their pickup trucks along riverside highways, often at “scale down” prices to tourists and costal-city yuppies. Doesn’t look like species preservation, which the tribes claim is their motive.

Nor do breach advocates cite the fact that 80 percent of returning salmon are already hatchery-raised, not “wild” returnees. (US Fish & Wildlife Service, 2/28/16.)

So, what would be the price of breaching? Dam breaching would cost the nation over $2.3 billion, says a new study and would negatively affect the environment by adding to trucking rail and storage costs, as well as threatening thousands of acres of Idaho farmland. A recent study says about 14 million tons of Northwest wheat, destined for Asian markets, is barged through the Snake/Columbia system annually; it would take some 35,000 additional railroad cars (350 trains of 100 cars each) or 135,000 trucks to move the barged products.

Nor would breaching definitively increase salmon numbers; even the most ardent salmon advocates don’t make promises as to the likely recovery numbers. They just say that everything else has been tried. It’s like saying prison doesn’t rehabilitate criminals, so let’s just let ‘em all out.

Moreover, breaching would also deprive the region of consistent power generation, and would surely increase costs for millions of Northwest homes and businesses. (FCS Group, Jan. 2020.) Nor do they even mention the issue of flood control; it wasn’t many decades ago when Western water basins routinely inundated farmlands and communities across the region.

The dams’ power generation lights close to a million Northwest area homes, and the transportation costs of truck/rail would increase pollutant emissions by 1.3 million tons a year, as well as increase farmer storage and transportation costs by 50-100 percent, likely bankrupting numerous farms in the region, the study found.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement published in February reached the same conclusion, that dam-breaching would not likely solve the salmon issue and would have widespread negative impacts on the region’s power generation, flood control and overall economy. (US Army Corps of Engineers, draft EIS, Feb. 28.)

But these likely impacts of dam-breaching are ignored in the narrative that nothing is left but breach-breach-breach. Rather than relying on biased opinions by pseudo-experts and biased journalists, dam-breach advocates should show more balance and skepticism.

Dam breaching isn’t going to happen, not now and probably never. Maybe that’s what’s got dam-breachers so riled up, but that’s the real world. Still, you know a scale has been scraped when prominent writers cite arm-chair reporters as sources and ignores pertinent and readily-available real numbers.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” This column was first published in www.idahopoliticsweekly.com. He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com


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Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately — different from many states which bind them together — allows for the office holders to come from different points of view.

For future historians and artists who'll chronicle today's health and economic crisis, one humble item will stand out as the chief cultural emblem of the times: wearing a mask. Or not.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.


That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.


No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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