Depending on Hatcheries
by Dennis & Jeanie Garrity
This is regarding state Sen. Larry Sheahan's Friday guest column on Columbia and Snake river salmon.
First, while Columbia Basin salmon stocks, including Snake River salmon, have experienced relatively strong returns in recent years, wild Snake River salmon remain far from recovery. For instance, last year's "strong" run of more than 37,000 wild Snake River spring/summer chinook salmon was still under the federal government's interim recovery standards. A return of at least 42,000 fish for eight years in a row would be necessary to lift federal protections. The vast majority of the salmon returning to Columbia Basin rivers in recent years have been hatchery fish. The sorry state of Snake River sockeye illustrates the hazards of depending on hatcheries to prevent extinction: Last year only 52 sockeye, all conservation-hatchery bred, made it past the uppermost dam on the lower Snake.
Second, no one is talking about removing dams on the Columbia. What is being discussed is the possible removal of four low-value dams on the lower Snake. These dams provide less than 5 percent of the region's electricity and provide irrigation for less than one-tenth of a percent of the 7.3 million acres of land Sheahan says is irrigated by the Columbia-Snake river system. The conservative Rand Corp. concluded that the energy from the lower Snake dams is replaceable -- without harming the regional economy -- by investing in efficiency and renewable energy sources. Similarly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has outlined ways to extend irrigation intakes to a free-flowing lower Snake River.
Recent salmon returns offer only a glimpse of what real salmon recovery could mean to the Northwest and its economy.
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