Preserving a taste of Idaho along with a connection to nature

Notes from the Idaho Environmental Summit at the DoubleTree Riverside, which continues through Thursday.

One of the most interesting sessions was about building and sustaining a local foods culture. Eating local has finally got its due as an effective way to reduce our footprint on the world.

One of Idaho’s oldest local food cultures is that of the Nez Perce. Gwen Carter of Lapwai shared a taste of camas root with the forum and I.

The thimble-sized bulb was once a staple of the Nez Perce diet but today is saved for special occasions like powwows, weddings, funerals and community events. The roots are cooked for three days in a pit.

New mercury reports pile on more data that dangerous toxin is spread all over

Higher mercury concentrations may be more widespread in Idaho than anyone thought.

The latest place where high mercury was found was in Lake Billy Shaw, Sheep Creek Reservoir and Mountain View Reservoir on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation on the Nevada border and Wildhorse Reservoir in northern Nevada. This fits into the current hypothesis of Idaho environmentalists that high mercury levels are tied to emissions from Nevada gold mines or from a concrete plant in Oregon with high emissions.

But state scientists are finishing up a report that may show widespread mercury contamination throughout the state’s waters. We’ll have to wait until early next year to see the results because all the analysis work still needs to be done.

Redden suggests draft salmon-dam plan doesn't meet the law and issues warnings

Just before the end of the day Friday Judge James Redden gave attorneys for the federal dam managers and fisheries officials something to think about before they go to a hearing Dec 12 about the latest biological opinions on the Columbia and Snake River dams.

Redden's letter was frank. It was clear. It was ominous.

He doesn’t think the current draft biological opinions meet the science or the law of the Endangered Species Act. If the final drafts don’t, he could issue a “permanent injunction directing Federal Defendants to implement additional spill and flow augmentation measures, to obtain additional water from the upper Snake and Columbia Rivers, or to implement reservoir drawdowns to enhance in-river flows.”

Kempthorne surpass's Watt's record for not listing endangered species

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne steered his agencies policy on endangered species away from that of his predecessor Gale Norton by ordering reviews of past decisions that had clearly been politicized and by proposing for listing the polar bear.

But Kempthorne has set a new record period for an administration going the longest without listing a species as threatened and endangered. Interior has listed no species during Kempthorne's tenure and no species at all in 576 days. That sets a new record in the 34 years since the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973.

Kempthorne even surpasses James Watt, who went 382 days without listing a species during 1981 and 1982. Why is listing a species so controversial?

Seattle Times writer sticks to his salmon and dams story 10 years later

Ten years ago the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board came to the conclusion that the four lower Snake Dams in Washington needed to be breached to save Idaho’s salmon, protect Idaho’s water and save taxpayers money.

That position was controversial then and of course, remains controversial now. It did get a lot of attention and since then, dozens of newspapers followed suit, including the New York Times, saying breaching the dams was necessary to save Snake River salmon and steelhead.

But most people forget that while I and Susan Whaley were researching the issue for the editorial board in 1997, the Seattle Times did its own, similar investigation. It concluded at the time that breaching the dams in its state was not likely to garner the necessary support.

Moment of truth for tribes and states arrives on salmon

There are a lot of activities behind the scenes as the federal government attempts to convince U.S. District Judge James Redden that they have done enough in their latest biological opinion to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

I have included for readers Don Chapman’s review of the science in the document as it relates to the Snake River salmon and steelhead, the fish that return to Idaho. He raises enough questions to give Redden doubts about the National Marine Fisheries Service using the “best science” in its analysis.

Aquifer dispute will tease out water doctrine for the future

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder is listening to testimony this week from the two sides of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer dispute. At the heart of the debate are legal principles that have been teased out for disputes for surface water users for nearly a century.

But in the debates between groundwater users, people who pump their water from the ground, and spring or surface water users, those who get their water from the springs that flow from t he aquifer into rivers, Schroeder and eventually the Idaho Supreme Court may plow new ground.

The clear challenge is whether the prior appropriation doctrine – first come, first served – overrides in these cases full economic development, another doctrine in water law. The primary case in surface water law was resolved in favor of full economic development in 1912.

Malawi tells another story about farm subsidies

The Idaho Statesman ran a story from the New York Times Sunday that took a completely different approach to the issue of farm subsidies.

It wasn’t talking about the U.S. farm bill that is up for debate this month in Congress. It instead focused on how the African nation of Malawi ignored what the rich countries and the World Bank said about subsidies and instead did what they did.

By re-instituting the subsidy on fertilizer for small farmers this nation with an annual income of less than $500 per capita went from famine to feast. It had a bumper crop of maize or corn this year feeding its nation instead itself instead of depending on food aid.It even had enough to export.

Fisheries guru Don Chapman comments on the federal biological opinion on salmon and dams

I asked McCall fisheries biologist Don Chapman what he thought about the biological opinion released last month by the NOAA Fisheries, which said operations of dams on the Snake and the Columbia Rivers won’t jeopardize the survival of 13 stocks of threatened and endangered salmon. He considers the document flawed and he goes into detail telling why.

You might remember that Chapman, a longtime consultant for the hydropower industry , suddenly in 2005 announced that four dams in Washington needed to be breached to save Snake River salmon. For decades, Chapman, had staunchly defended technological fixes for the imperiled fish, recommending hauling salmon past the dams from their spawning grounds to the Pacific Ocean.

1196433482 Fisheries guru Don Chapman comments on the federal biological opinion on salmon and dams Idaho Statesman Copyright 2014 Idaho Statesman . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Kempthorne reverses political meddling Norton allowed

The Interior Department under former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, the Interior secretary, has decided to take a second look at seven decisions on endangered species, including the size of the critical habitat for the endangered Canada Lynx, which roams Idaho’s backcountry. These are decisions made by officials under his predecessor Gale Norton.

The agency’s inspector general continues to reveal more of the political meddling carried out in the Bush Administration to overrule the professional and scientific judgments of the people who are supposed to protect our natural resources. The agency’s action’s Wednesday focused again on former California engineer Julie McDonald.

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