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Work Toward Attainable Goals
When Saving Idaho's Salmon

Editorial from the Board of the Times-News
Times-News, August 4, 1999

Life is a question of balance, and it will require a substantial feat of balance to save Idaho's salmon. That's why a plan unveiled by the Idaho Council on Industry and the Environment, and talked up by Sen. Larry Craig and Rep. Mike Simpson, deserves serious consideration.

The plan doesn't seek to punch holes in four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington state. Nor does it support the use of additional water from the upper Snake River basin.

Instead, it calls for reasonable, attainable goals that will help fish without hurting people. Among other things, the plan seeks more in-stream hatchery programs, installing strobe lights at dams to steer salmon away from deadly turbines, and building bypass canals around the four Snake River dams and four other dams on the lower Columbia River.

Almost predictably, the plan is being bashed by fishing and conservation groups that insist it doesn't go far enough.

It is "... just another in a long line of attempts to fool the public into thinking we can have salmon without sacrifice," says Scott Bosse, of Idaho Rivers United. "It ignores 30 years of scientific research and the opinion of the vast majority of Northwest fisheries scientists who say dam removal must be the cornerstone of any serious effort to restore wild salmon and steelhead to Idaho."

Bosse is entitled to his opinion. So are the more than 200 fisheries scientists who say dam breaching is the best way to ensure the survival of Idaho's salmon and steelhead. But all of these critics have clamped their jaws onto the biggest, juiciest issue in the salmon debate, and they aren't letting go.

Making war on dams is the environmental groups' best fulcrum to leverage public opinion. It's a hugely symbolic issue, because knocking out the dams would portend the reversal of man's dominance over nature.

But it ain't gonna happen. Cheap electricity from these and other hydroelectric dams is a major component of the Northwest's economy. They are the sine qua non of the Lewiston barge industry. They are a fact of life, and poking holes in them on the speculation that it will help fish is folly.

We'll be the first to concede that the dams are a big part of the problem. But there are other significant factors, including cyclic changes in ocean conditions, opportunistic predators, and a chowder-headed policy that allows commercial and Indian harvest of the very fish that everyone is worried about. That's akin to letting people shoot endangered grizzly bears to sell the gall bladders to overseas folk healers.

There are many problems besetting Idaho's salmon and steelhead, which means a multi-faceted solution is needed. By focusing on the smaller parts of the problem, we may be able to save salmon and steelhead without butting our heads against the symbolically dense issue of dams.

Editorial from the Board of the Times-News
Work Toward Attainable Goals When Saving Idaho's Salmon
Times-News - August 4, 1999

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