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Hero 1996: Reed Burkholder

Piano composer, salmon activist

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What's the best way to restore wild salmon runs?

Ten years after he appeared in BW's first Local Heroes issue, Reed Burkholder says the answer is still the same.

In 1996 and for years earlier, this Boise piano teacher was one of the Northwest's loudest advocates for decommissioning and removing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in order to restore historic wild salmon runs. Back then, Burkholder's plan was a novel position. Now, he says, with loads of new power plants in the Northwest making hydropower less necessary by the day, dam removal has earned plenty of fans--just not the right ones.

"Nearly all environmental groups now support dam removal," he says. "I don't even know who our opponents are anymore. We've made progress everywhere but politically--which is where it has to be."

Burkholder definitely knows at least one of his opponents. Idaho Sen. Larry Craig has remained steadfast in his position not only in support of dams, but also against researchers who claim that the negative impact of dams on fish populations is plain to see. After scientists at the Fish Passage Center documented in excruciating detail how dams have a direct decimating effect on salmon populations, Craig inserted a rider onto an energy appropriations bill pulling the center's meager funding last November.

Since his first appearance in Boise Weekly, Burkholder says salmon recovery has remained his "number one avocational interest" when he's not composing piano pieces for children (two of his piano books are about to be released by the music publisher FJH Music). He's written to Craig three times in the last month and gone to see him at a public meeting, always asking the same question--the same question he asked a decade ago.

"What new policy do you recommend, given the fact that we've had 28 years of no wild salmon fishing in our state?" he asks. "This is a record of failure only the government could muster." And not surprisingly, Burkholder says that he's he's no longer holding his breath for a turn in Craig's cold-fish façade.

"Craig's getting older. Maybe he'll retire," he says. "Hopefully he won't be a Strom Thurmond."

--NC

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