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Commentaries and editorials

Wanted: Agency to Take Over
Salmon Monitoring

by Hal Bernton
Seattle Times, December 8, 2005

PORTLAND -- With less than four months until Congress shuts down a science center that tracks salmon migration in the Columbia River basin, the Bonneville Power Administration is scrambling to come up with a new agency -- or group of agencies -- to take over that work.

The Fish Passage Center is scheduled to be closed in March, the result of controversy about its efforts to document the toll that hydroelectric-power operations take on salmon.

At a hearing Wednesday in Portland, everyone could agree that the fish survival rates are critical information in the multibillion-dollar effort to revive the region's salmon runs. But no clear consensus emerged about who should tackle this job in the future or how it should be done.

Conservationists, sport fishermen and tribes have been strong supporters of the Fish Passage Center, and they often have used its findings in lawsuits against the federal government.

They want to see another independent agency take over all the tasks once performed by the Fish Passage Center. Five Washington Democrats -- U.S. Reps. Brian Baird, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, Norm Dicks and Adam Smith -- also want an independent group, according to a letter they sent Wednesday to the Bonneville Power Administration and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

But BPA's Greg Delwiche said the center's work is being put out to bid, and it is unclear whether it will be tackled by a single group, or parceled among several bidders who would take over operations March 17.

U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who questioned the reliability and neutrality of the Fish Passage Center, is responsible for its shutdown. He inserted language into an appropriations bill that would prohibit any further funding for the center but orders that its work be continued elsewhere.

"Data cloaked in advocacy create confusion. False science leads people to make false choices," Craig said. "We do not have to choose dams or salmon. They can, and should, continue to coexist."

Craig's remarks have stung the 11 staff members of the Fish Passage Center, who over the years took pride in providing detailed analysis of fish-survival rates on a $1.3 million annual budget.

Michele DeHart, the manager of the Fish Passage Center, said the center's science has been sound.

"They just make accusations. But there is no specifics," said DeHart, who said she never had the chance for a face-to-face meeting with Craig to discuss his concerns. "This is politics, and we are just biologists and computer scientists. Politics isn't something we do."

Related Pages:
Senator Aims to Kill Agency That Tracks Salmon by Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, 6/23/5
Zeroing Out the Messenger by Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, 11/30/5

Hal Bernton
Wanted: Agency to Take Over Salmon Monitoring
Seattle Times, December 8, 2005

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