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Healthy River, Ample Fish

by Editorial Board
The Daily Astorian, April 10, 2008

There may be more than one way of getting there

There are no bigger supporters of salmon than the Columbia River Basin treaty tribes. So the decision by four of them to shelve battles with federal dam operators for 10 years in return for $900 million in habitat and hatchery improvements is worthy of considerable deference.

For entirely understandable reasons, other parties to the fight including Gov. Ted Kulongoski and environmental groups like Earthjustice are unhappy that these key tribal allies are leaving the field.

Nobody has more credibility in long-running efforts to save endangered salmon than the people whose ancestors cherished these totem species for thousands of years. Legal arguments for requiring drastic changes in dam operations will remain compelling without these tribes' involvement. But much political gravitas will be lost. (It is notable that the Nez Perce Tribe is not participating in this deal and will continue to lend its great weight to efforts to fully restore the Snake River.)

Much as anything, it is frankly embarrassing that the tribes would cut a deal of any kind with the Bush administration, the most blackguardly politicians of any in several generations.

And yet there is something to be said for the principles enunciated in defense of the settlement. Decades of fighting over dams have perhaps resulted in better fish-passage mechanisms and other incremental gains for salmon. But even so, here we are again this year facing the prospect of severely limited fishing seasons along much of the Pacific Coast and Lower Columbia River.

All the fighting has not brought us any closer to the dream of getting rid of the most ill-considered dams, particularly those on the Snake River. Even with a sympathetic federal judge overseeing this dispute, there is little real hope that Congress and a new president will make a 180-degree turn in policy and go along with fundamental hydrosystem changes. The fact is that even here in the Pacific Northwest many major politicians oppose restoring natural water flows to the river.

Columbia tribes have long supported a plan that aims to restore an interlocking chain of different vital fish habitats that link spawning grounds and hatcheries with the ocean. Cleverly used over the next decade, the nearly $1 billion the tribes now control can be put to great use testing the viability of this habitat plan, while improving hatcheries.

After the political dust has settled, everyone else who believes in restoring our river needs to remember we are on the same side. In the long run, we all want a healthy river with ample fish for all. There may be more than one way of getting there.

Editorial Board
Healthy River, Ample Fish
The Daily Astorian, April 10, 2008

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