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Dam Removal Brings Balance to Idahoans

by Tom Stuart, board President of Idaho Rivers United
Idaho Statesman, July 7, 1999

Sen. Larry Craig's commentary (Speakers' Corner, June 28), asserting that federal dams are only scapegoats for nearly extinct salmon runs, makes major errors. Now, Idahoans know that Craig is not willing to do much for salmon, but it is surprising to see him pledge allegiance to four costly federal dams, in view of the threat to Idaho fishing businesses, the pressure on southern Idaho irrigators, and the views of Idaho's scientists.

It is a huge error to continually ignore the majority of scientists from Northwest states, tribes and federal agencies, who observe that dams are the biggest killers of salmon, pure and simple. The Idaho Chapter of the American Fisheries Society recently passed a resolution, with 92 percent in favor, stating that Idaho salmon cannot be restored without partially removing four dams in Washington state -- the lethal bottleneck for salmon recovery efforts.

Craig is apparently distracted by dam-industry scientists, a small minority. I firmly believe, along with most Idahoans, that it is unwise to ask tobacco company scientists about lung cancer, or scientists who get their paychecks from dams about the effects of dams on fish. Simply put, it is not reasonable to assert that 92 percent of Idaho's fishery scientists are wrong. This would be anti-salmon foolishness, or pro-industry excess. Just like the president was dishonest to continually deny an illicit affair, denying the majority view in salmon science is a very bad idea.

Speaking of paychecks, the senator should speak out for the 38,000 family-wage jobs that depend on sportfishing in the Northwest, as reported by the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, and, for the 2,700 jobs in Idaho's $150 million annual steelhead fishery, and, for the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, Idaho Steelhead and Salmon Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Idaho Wildlife Federation, and Idaho Rivers United, who are standing up for fishing businesses in river communities without the senator's help.

It's time for Craig, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and the rest of Idaho's congressional delegation to demant that Idaho's salmon be allowed to survive at rates that other Northwest states still enjoy. Salmon in Washington's Yakima River, the Columbia's Hanford reach, and Oregon's John Day River survive at rates nearly 10 times higher than those from Idaho's pristine Middle Fork Salmon, Selway, or Lochsa rivers. This is unjust, unbalanced, and wrong.

Why are Idaho's salmon in trouble, swimming side by side through the sam ocean, birds and seals? Should we deny the facts, and reach a goofy conclusion that predators eat only Idaho fish? Or, is it just four dams too many? Common sense and science reach the same conclusion.

The current salmon crisis actually presents an opportunity to reach better balance in rivers, fish and wildlife. Idaho's Snake River historically provided 50 percent of all spring and summer chinook salmon in the Columbia Basin. By removing only four dams -- out of over 400 in the basin -- we can open up prime habitat to restore a huge population segment. Removing four dams and assisting affected shippers is an adjustment we can afford to make. In fact, we can ill afford not to make it, if we care at all about balance.

Salmon recovery is not an "all-or-nothing" proposition. It is not appropriate to remove every dam in the Northwest; that, too, would be unbalanced. But, it makes sense to remove four, to restore 50 percent of the Columbia Basin's spring/summer chinook, and increase Snake fall chinook habitat 70 percent. This is the essential step in any plan to keep salmon and steelhead in Idaho's Salmon and Clearwater rivers, according to an overwhelming majority of scientists.

Sound like a better balance? You bet it does.

Tom Stuart - a Stanley businessman, retired military officer and board president of Idaho Rivers United
Dam Removal Brings Balance to Idahoans
Idaho Statesman - July 7, 1999

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