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New Bipartisan Support for salmon-saving "Solutions Table"

In the long controversy about how to save endangered Northwest salmon, only a few members of Congress have spoken up about their views.

That changed this week. More than 50 representatives from both major parties have signed a letter to President Obama, asking to start a negotiation process that includes all parties in the salmon-restoration debate for the Columbia and Snake rivers. For Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, it seems like a sensible move compared with spending more time and tax dollars in court.

"This at least is worth a try. It's worth a try, and I'm confident that, if we get people there and there's some pressure put on 'em, that we might very well be able to arrive at agreement."

A "solutions table" has been suggested often in recent years, after several government plans for improving salmon numbers have been found inadequate or downright illegal in federal court. Grader hopes the backing of so many members of Congress will get a new approach off the ground.

"We have interest by enough members of Congress; they've never before done a letter like this. Certainly, I think, from our organization's standpoint, we're objective - we're willing to listen to good arguments."

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-7th Dist., is the only Washington congressman to sign the letter. Twenty of the signers are from California, where a similar negotiation process has been credited with restoring salmon runs in the San Joaquin River.

Small business owners like Paul Fish, an outdoor recreation retailer in Spokane, are encouraged by the idea. He thinks improvements in the salmon numbers would benefit communities in terms of tourism and jobs, as well.

"Thinking about the value of the recreation economy rather than the extraction economy is critically important. You know, the recreation economy now is actually slightly larger than the new home construction economy in the U.S."

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