Former Arizona Governor and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was in Coeur d’Alene recently to address the first annual north Idaho dinner for the Idaho Conservation League. The dinner is also a living memorial to the late Scott Reed, a Coeur d’Alene attorney who helped found the ICL, and who also became an expert on Environmental Impact Statements and water law.
Reed is survived by his beloved spouse, former State Senator Mary Lou Reed, a daughter, Tara, and a son, Bruce, who served former President Bill Clinton first at the Democratic Leadership Council and then as President Clinton’s chief domestic policy advisor.
Fellow Coeur d’Alene attorney and ICL board member Buddy Paul spearheaded the effort to put the sold-out dinner together.
At 78, Babbitt still is ramrod straight in posture, quiet and modest in demeanor, has a ready smile, a great sense of humor, an intellect like few others, and an undiminished passion for protecting the environment.
For an hour before the dinner, Governor Babbitt (the 47th Secretary of the Interior) sat down to discuss the future prospects for survival of the ocean-going salmon on the Columbia and Snake River systems, with two of Idaho’s leading conservationists: Pat Ford and Rick Johnson. For years Ford headed up the Boise office of the group “Save Our Salmon,” and before that was the executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.
Rick Johnson is the current executive director of ICL.
Ford is a strong advocate of taking out the four lower Snake dams, breaching them to restore natural river flow. Once again (4th time?) a Federal District Judge in Portland, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, has ruled that the Biological Opinion on whether the dams too adversely inhibit the journey of the smolt to the sea is deficient. Therefore, ipso facto, the EIS so dependent on the BIOP, is also deficient.
Ford is the quintessential “lean, mean fighting machine,” and a vigorous advocate for restoring the salmon and steelhead runs, He speaks eloquently and writes with style and passion on the need for the region to take the proper steps before wild salmon and steelhead are extinct.
Still freckle-faced with red hair, he was quickly called “Pixie” while attending Columbia and receiving his undergraduate degree. Though “retired” Ford is still a master of detail as well as a master strategist.
This particular day Ford has a specific ask given that new hearings have been ordered by the judge. Ford has chafed at the inadequacy of the previous BIOP’s and EIS’s in part because none of the previous one’s did an honest and diligent examination of the breaching option.
He instinctively knows that a better examination by the Task Force charged with the responsibility will create more support for his goal. He wants to make sure that the incoming administration knows the importance of the issue. He also has spotted a shortcoming that has contributed to the inadequate reviews: there is no one from the Interior department’s fish and wildlife agency or from the Environmental Protection Agency on the Task Force.
His ask of Babbitt then is a letter to another former Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who heads up Hillary Clinton’s Transition Team with Babbitt encouraging the Transition Group to pay heed to his request.
The former Arizona attorney general and 9-year governor still absorbs quickly and acts decisively.
He jokingly tells Johnson and Ford that he is once again a public employee working for the State of California at the behest of Governor Jerry Brown, heading up a Task Force that is examining California’s overworked, overdemand, overconsumed rivers.
He tells Johnson and Ford he is already zeroing in on the need salmon have for stream temperature no higher than 56 degrees if one wants to maximize the reproduction capabilities of the salmon and steelhead.
Ford commits to doing a draft and is rightly pleased to have achieved another small step in his relentless pursuit of preserving at least some of the historically magnificent salmon runs. Three warriors for the environment to whom future generations will owe much amble off to the reception.