By Joan Laatz Jewett, of the Oregonian Staff
A handpicked group of Northwest power players met Friday at an
exclusive club in Spokane to plot a campaign to tilt public opinion toward
industry-friendly ways to save salmon.
Corporate giants such as Weyerhauser Corp. And Boeing Co. were among
those asked to pony up money for a $2.6 million public education' blitz
opposing dramatic changes to Columbia River operations to save salmon.
The invitation-only meeting was organized by J. Vander Stoep, former
chief of staff for Senator Slade Gorton, R-WA, and several Washington,
DC - based political consultants.
"Nobody there thinks they going to get away without paying for salmon
recovery or isn't supportive of restoring the resource," Vander Stoep said
of those attending the meeting. "But everybody wants to get beyond
theology about how we do it. This group is more committed to science
An industry-supported public information campaign is the only way to
counter biased news media coverage and the rhetoric of well-financed
environmental groups, the invitation said. It was send out under the name
"Northwesterners for More Fish."
The new group hopes to sway public opinion away from three tentative
salmon recovery plans developed by the federal government, the Northwest
Power Planning Council and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish
Among the strategies those plans call for are:
** Spill water over dams instead of through turbines when young
salmon are migrating downstream to sea.
** Draw down reservoirs to increase the river flow during the spring
** Send more young fish downstream in the river instead of in barges,
the way most of them are moved now.
All those strategies carry hefty price tags, especially for industries that
a lot of electricity and water or rely on the Columbia River for shipping.
The industry group hopes to instead educate the public about a Nation
Research Council report issued in November, which Vander Stoep praised
as the most balanced approach to salmon recovery.
That report said there was no scientific evidence that the benefits of
water and drawing down reservoirs to help fish justified the expense. The
report also relied on barging as the best way to move fish.
Oregon fisheries officials and Indian tribes denounced the research council
report as a naive plan that merely supported business as usual on the
Columbia and its major tributary, the Snake.
Three kinds of Snake River salmon are protected under the Endangered
Species Act, prompting the search for a legally acceptable recovery plan.
Gorton spoke before the Spokane meeting Friday but stayed away from the
closed-door strategy session, which was attended by about 50 people,
sources who attended said. Participants represented big electric
companies, small public utility districts, banks, timber and commodity
businesses, ports, aluminum plants and irrigators.
Gorton's support of the industry campaign -- his name was on the
invitation -- is his latest move to become a player in the Northwest salmon
debate. He has endorsed a cap on salmon recovery spending and vowed to
achieve changes in the Northwest Power Act.
The Power Act says federal hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia
Rivers have to be operated with salmon in mind, not just for power
The list of 113 invitees was notable for who wasn't on it. Idaho Gov. Phil
Batt was the only one of the four Northwest governors who was invited,
although no one from his office attended. And only Idaho's two members
of the Northwest Power Planning Council were invited. Representatives
from Oregon, Montana and Washington were not invited.
Gorton wants to limit how much money is spent on salmon recovery, and
that is the likely goal of any public relations campaign paid for by
Kreidler said. "I am very dubious that the people of the Northwest are
going to be swayed that electric utilities are going to be able to portray
themselves as saviours of salmon."
Environmentalists also were skeptical. Tim Stearns, director of the Save
Our Wild Salmon coalition, called the industry campaign a "thinly veiled
strategy to intimidate" two separate regional efforts currently under way to
redefine the Northwest energy industry and fish and wildlife programs in
the Columbia basin.
"Senator Gorton and others are really urging regional control but they
haven't brought in any of the region's fish and wildlife agencies, Indian
tribes or any of the fishing industries to participate in this type of
And from the 2/17/96 Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
"Campaign Seeks to Limit Plans to Restore Salmon
By Joel Connelly, PI National Correspondent
"A $2.6 million public relations strategy, designed to limit federal plans
restoring Columbia River salmon, was outlined to representatives of
Northwest businesses in Spokane yesterday.
The campaign would promote an alternative to the National Marine
Fisheries Service plans for Columbia River salmon. The alternative would
cap the cost of restoration. It would also stop measures such as drawing
down reservoirs and increasing river flows to help salmon.
Utilities have feared losing power revenues due to increasing flows and
spilling water over dams, while irrigators say drawdowns might jeopardize
their ability to draw water out of reservoirs.
The campaigns key goal is to build support for changes in the Endangered
Species Act that would give officials the option of letting some salmon runs
go extinct while concentrating resources to save other runs.
A memo announcing the meeting stated, "Northwest congressional leaders
want to change federal law to stabilize salmon costs and to allow the region
to decide on which salmon runs to focus for restoration."
The closed-door session was organized and conducted by longtime
associates of Republican Senator Slade Gorton, including his Washington,
DC political consultant, a Portland, OR pollster and a former chief of staff.
Gorton chief of staff Tony Williams initially suggested last year that
utilities join an aggressive' public relations campaign directed by Senator
Gorton' to clamp a lid on spending to restore salmon.
However, while Gorton spoke to the business representatives yesterday at
his Spokane office, he is not an organizer of the effort, one of the plan's
At a later planning session, the group studied a draft plan for a two-phase
public relations blitz that would spend $1.7 million on radio and TV
commercials, $100,000 on polls and focus groups, and $100,000 on
grassroots team building.'...
The centerpiece of the strategy would be a grass-roots group with a
steering committee of public officials and community spokespersons.'
"The effort will be called Northwesterners for More Fish and will be a
project of the corporation Project CommonSense." said a briefing paper for
the meeting. "Project CommonSense was set up to create awareness of
excessive governmental regulation in health care and various environmental
issues including the Endangered Species Act, and advocates sensible
changes in the law which protect wildlife and private property rights."
Eddie Mahe, a Washington, DC, political strategist whose clients include
Gorton and other senators, said "a broad-based campaign and a fairly
substantive public campaign" is needed.
Mahe said that Northwesterners for More Fish would promote plans less
stringent than those backed by Save Our Wild Salmon, an organization
formed by environmental groups. "Those who have a different perspective
on this issue, like Save Our Wild Salmon, seem to be suggesting that the
best solution is to revert to the way this region was 100 years ago," Mahe
Bill Arthur, Northwest representative of the Sierra Club and an organizer
of Save Our Wild Salmon, disputed that. "Nobody is suggesting we go
back to caves and candles," Arthur said. "Nobody is suggesting we take
out the dams ... You can make modifications to the dams, and the way we
operate dams, that will assure healthy salmon runs as well as the power and
irrigation that have helped build our region. We can do this with modest
investment." ... "
EDITORS NOTE: Washington Senator Gorton is the author of a bill in the
Senate (S. 768) which would radically alter the current Endangered Species
Act. Among its many proposals are changes that would make it virtually
impossible to ever list salmon (or any other fish species) under the Act
again, would delist salmon runs already listed (e.g., in the Columbia Basin)
and severely limit all future salmon recovery efforts. As proposed by
Senator Gorton, the ESA would also then allow species to go extinct
whenever the Secretaries of Interior or Commerce (political appointees)
decide to allow it. Senator Gorton has already gone on record a number of
times as favoring letting wild salmon runs in the Columbia go extinct. His
ESA bill was discredited when it was discovered through leaked office
memos that much of it was literally written by timber and aluminum
lobbyists and lawyers rather than his own staff. However, a number of its
worst provisions were later incorporated into Senator Dirk Kempthorne's
ESA bill (S. 1364). Both will be considered in the Senate in the near