ANATONE — When he looks back at his nearly five decades of fish and wildlife related public service, one memory stands above the rest for Larry Cassidy.
The Vancouver, Wash., resident, who owns a ranch along the Grande Ronde River in Asotin County, was appointed to the Washington Game Commission by Gov. Dan Evans in 1973 and since then has served every chief executive of the state in one capacity or another.
In addition to logging 12 years on the game commission, Cassidy was, among other things, a member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Commission for 10 years and the U.S. commissioner for both the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Today, he remains active in various fish and wildlife organizations and is one of the founders of Washington Anglers for Conservation Political Action Committee, a super PAC that supports fish- and wildlife-friendly candidates for public office in the Evergreen State.
When legislation that would become what is now known as the Northwest Power Act was making its way through Congress, Cassidy was asked by then Washington Congressman Don Bonker to give Rep. John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, a tour of the region.
“I didn’t know him from Adam,” he said of Dingell, who died in February following a long and distinguished career in the House of Representatives. “Dingell gets off the plane, and you know some people you just hit it off with instantly. We just had a lot of things in common.”
He took Dingell fishing on the Toutle River, where Dingell’s refusal to accept an unearned angling experience solidified Cassidy’s fondness for the politician.
“I hooked a steelhead and I said ‘Congressman do you want to play my fish?’ and he said ‘Hell no, I don’t play somebody else’s fish,’ and that just absolutely sold me on him from that day on.”
Following the tour, Dingle asked if he could spend the weekend with Cassidy as he drove to Olympia and Seattle to attend various political events. The new friends spent plenty of time in the car and talked turned to fish and wildlife and the pending legislation that was germane to a subcommittee Dingell chaired.
Dingell asked his opinion on how the legislation should treat salmon and steelhead.
“I said ‘Well, Congressman, if somebody doesn’t make the fish and wildlife equal to the power generation, we are going to lose the fish; there isn’t any question about that. We need to have more emphasis and more effort with regard to saving salmon and steelhead.”
After the weekend, Dingell returned to Washington, D.C., and Cassidy kept himself busy with running his plumbing supply business and his work as chairman of the game commission. He didn’t think much on their conversation until a few weeks later when he received an angry call from Denny Miller, the chief of staff for Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, D-Wash.
“He said, ‘Larry you have screwed up the entire Northwest Regional Energy Bill. You and your commission have got Dingell set that he won’t let it out of committee until we make the restoration of fish equal to the generation of power.’ I said ‘Well what’s wrong with that?’ he said ‘You don’t understand,’ and I said ‘Yeah, I think I do.’ ”
The legislation, which put power generation and fish restoration on equal footing and created the Power and Conservation Commission, passed and was signed by President Jimmy Carter in December of 1980. To this day, the law that directs some of the proceeds from power generation at federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to be devoted to fish and wildlife restoration remains instrumental in the region’s decades-long effort to save 13 species of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
“It worked out, and the fish have been an integral part of what the cost of maintaining those power systems is, and I think that is fair,” Cassidy said recently at his ranch on a bench above the Grande Ronde River near Shumaker Bar.
Jay Holzmiller of Anatone, who sits on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, said it’s difficult to match Cassidy’s commitment to not only fish and wildlife but hunters and anglers. He points to a small piece of land along the Grande Ronde that Cassidy and his wife are donating to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The 5-acre parcel at Snyder Bar adjoins land owned by the state where the department is making improvements to an informal boat launch and camping area.
“This donation is big, it really is, but it pales in comparison to all the other stuff,” Holzmiller said. “Every hunter and angler in Washington owes him a debt of gratitude.”
Cassidy and Marilou, his wife of 56 years, visit the ranch as often as his health allows. The nearly 80-year-old has been battling prostrate cancer since 1998. The fight has been tough at times, but a new treatment has him feeling better. Cassidy is involved in a clinical trial at Portland’s Oregon Health and Science University that uses nuclear medicine.
“It’s really working,” he said. “I was out spraying yellow starthistle today and climbing up these hills and doing things I haven’t done in three years.”
He said he is still concerned about the plight of salmon and steelhead and the Trump administration’s penchant for cutting environmental regulations. He is encouraged by some of the fish passage work at Snake and Columbia river dams and would like to see drift nets banned in the lower Columbia River. But he doesn’t believe breaching the lower Snake River Dams in the right move, saying it will be too costly to farmers and that fish runs in some of the region’s undammed rivers are also struggling.
“I’m not an anti-business guy,” he said. “That is how I ended up being able to serve in the public sector. I had a business that provide enough for me and my family that I could also do some public service.”
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