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Commentaries and editorials

That's Advocacy, Not Fish Science

by U.S. Senator Larry Craig
Lewiston Tribune, September 27, 2005

Jim Fisher unintentionally proves my point about why the Fish Passage Center (FPC) must be closed in his Sept. 16 editorial titled, "Don't dam huggers prefer fish spills to breaching?" He cites the Fish Passage Center's recent report published on Sept. 13, but unfortunately, Jim hasn't done his homework about the science behind the report. Instead of making shaky conclusions on a report that is at best preliminary (as the FPC admits), the public deserves to hear the rest of the story, which the FPC fails to provide.

Before I start, however, I want to remind readers that I contend the FPC has become an advocate rather than an objective source of information. Relying on an FPC report to support his argument, as Jim does, amounts to little more than "he said-she said." Since Jim disagrees with me, he ought to find an objective third party to support his claims and the FPC. Instead, he refers to an FPC report which is seriously flawed.

Let me start from the beginning. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council directly funds and oversees the FPC. The council's Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB) issued a report in 2003, in which it raised serious questions about the FPC's analyses. The ISAB said FPC's "basic model and methods of presentation are now inadequate to make confident predictions for management, and other interpretations of the accumulated data are needed." Clearly, I am not alone in questioning FPC's reliability.

The ISAB also noted that "(t)he prevailing flow-augmentation paradigm, which asserts that in-river smolt survival will be proportionally enhanced by any amount of added water, is no longer supportable. It does not agree with information now available." (bluefish notes: flow-augmentation is a separate issue from spill. Spill is spilling water over spillways at the dams. Flow-augmentation is increasing the amount of water entering the reservoirs. This two issues are often confused.)

Two years after the ISAB report, the FPC appears not to have learned from it. The FPC study Jim refers to still relies on selective use of data, and is not good science. FPC analysis considers the impact of dams on salmon, but does not consider other factors that might influence juvenile salmon survival (such as natural predators); uses a limited amount of survival data (i.e. data through July 15, even though the court ordered spill program extended through the end of August); measured survival only to McNary Dam, when typical studies are measured to Bonneville Dam; and ignored high survival rates for Snake River fall chinook from the 1990s. These are just a few of the problems evident in the report.

Data cloaked in advocacy creates confusion. Depending on who reads these statistics, actual salmon survival in 2005 could be equal to or lower than previous years, instead of higher, as FPC claims. An objective scientist using the data could conclude that increased spill harms salmon, helps them, or does nothing. How can that help policymakers reach an accurate conclusion? Clearly, it can't. (bluefish adds: Results from this year's actions will not truely be known until these fish return as adults. The FPC clearly states this in its report.)

Yet another point not identified in the FPC analysis is that over 90 percent of the fall chinook (of hatchery origin) had already migrated past Lower Granite Dam by the time the study started. I could continue to list the disparities in the FPC's report, but the point has been made. The FPC once again is misleading the public by not presenting all the facts and parameters of their analysis.

Removal of funding to the FPC does not mean its current functions will disappear. The University of Washington now performs most of the data collection and dissemination that is performed by the FPC. Broadening the scope of the UW program would provide the region with the opportunity to build a center of excellence in salmon data collection and analysis and reduce redundancies. Future generations of scientists could then be trained in rigorous, objective scientific analysis in a Northwest institution of higher learning.

Focusing BPA's limited resources in the UW would provide a clearer and unbiased source for salmon data and analysis. Ultimately, with this type of objective science, the region can better understand what's happening with the fish and what fish need. This would make the region's salmon recovery efforts more efficient and effective, without sacrificing the Port of Lewiston, Idaho jobs and Idaho agriculture, as dam breaching would do.

False science leads people to false choices. We do not have to choose dams or salmon. They can, and should, continue to coexist.

Related Pages:
Craig is No Scientist, But He Plays One in Senate by Jim Fisher , Lewiston Tribune, 10/21/5
FCRPS Summer Spill 2005 After-Action Report by Federal Action Agencies, 10/31/5

Larry Craig is Idaho's senior U.S. senator
Turnabout; That's Advocacy, Not Fish Science
Lewiston Tribune, September 27, 2005

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