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Commentaries and editorials

Administration Finally Decides
Dams Don't Hurt Salmon After All

by Editors
Opinion, Idaho State Journal, September 2, 2004

It's pretty amazing how biology changes when placed alongside politics.

Take the fate of Columbia Basin salmon runs. These fish work their way hundreds of miles from the salt into the river systems of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Remember just a few years back, when we were told salmon in Idaho might not last another generation if the four lower Snake River hydroelectric dams weren't removed? Turns out those dams weren't hurting salmon after all, government scientists have now concluded. A fisheries administrator from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says so.

The difference between the warnings of the past and the promise of the future? "The facts changed in the intervening time," says Bob Lohn, Northwest regional manager for NOAA.

Please. Spare us the bureaucratic flotsam.

Last year, two sockeye salmon made the 800-mile journey from the Pacific to Redfish Lake in Idaho. Two. In the years before the dams, the numbers of red salmon returning to Idaho were in the thousands (hence the name of the lake).

In recent years when the state enjoyed good returns of chinook salmon and steelhead from the Pacific, enough fish failed to make their way upriver to allow anglers to go after them in the Salmon River near the town of Salmon. That hadn't happened since 1978.

Idaho once had a modest coho salmon run into the Clearwater River system. Cohos haven't been seen in Idaho for years.

In all, throughout the Columbia system, 14 separate salmon runs are listed as either threatened or endangered by the same administration that's now telling us the fish can be saved without removing the dams.

How's that? Well, cyclical ocean conditions recently have been more favorable for salmon in the waters of the Pacific - more plankton, more food, temperatures more conducive to survival, etc. That, and the efforts under way in rearing streams all over the Northwest to preserve or improve spawning habitat is why we've had strong runs the last few years.

But remember, ocean conditions are cyclical. It's virtually certain that sometime in the future, things won't be so great in the waters of the Pacific, and we'll see salmon runs dwindle again.

Folks, the biology didn't change. Politics did. The current administration has done its level best over the last four years to turn back the clock when it comes to ecological conservation in our country. Dozens of protections have been weakened or lifted at the expense of the air we breathe, the water we drink and other natural resources (like our salmon) that require a strong conservation ethic to remain viable.

We're losing that ethic. Our government is losing that ethic, siding instead with the perceived need to relax regulations in order to allow industry to once again spurn the environment and get ahead rather than require things be done right. This latest declaration, that dams are no longer a worry for salmon recovery, is just more of the same.

Bill Sedivy, director of Idaho Rivers United, might have said it best: "This no jeopardy opinion is absurd - it's like saying cigarettes don't cause cancer," Sedivy said. "It's a giant leap backward for salmon recovery - it's a tremendous backslide."

Thankfully, this issue has to go before Judge James Reddon, the same judge who ruled last year that the government's 2000 biological opinion declaring dams could stay in place was short-sighted. Declaring the dams are no longer hurdles in the salmon recovery effort should get another skeptical review from Reddon.

Administration Finally Decides Dams Don't Hurt Salmon After All
Idaho State Journal, September 2, 2004

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