the film
Commentaries and editorials

Bush Places Heavy Stock
in Short-term Salmon Gain

by Editors
Our View, The Idaho Statesman, August 26, 2003

President Bush didn´t declare victory on the salmon issue Friday, but his comments are troubling.

Salmon runs are increasing in the Northwest, Bush said during a stop at Washington´s Ice Harbor dam. “And we just need to make sure we keep that momentum.”

But it´s not as simple as that, and Bush should have acknowledged so. The Northwest´s salmon have gotten into trouble over decades, and it will take more than a couple of good years to get them out of danger. That´s the message we´d like to hear: not an anti-dam breaching pep talk that places too much stock in the recent numbers.

Anyone who has watched this debate unfold over the past decade knows solutions are not simple. The factors affecting salmon populations are too complex.

The current salmon numbers can be attributed largely to hatchery fish — which critics say are weaker genetically — and to good ocean conditions.

Returning hatchery fish is not the same as saving wild salmon. And water conditions are always a gamble. If more salmon survive in the ocean, more fish migrate upriver. But Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, raises a good point: Based on drought conditions this year, he suspects salmon runs will be down in two to three years.

Water conditions undoubtedly fluctuated long before the nation tamed the Northwest´s rivers with a series of dams. It´s just that now — with salmon in peril and every fish quantified — the effects are under scrutiny.

We have supported breaching the four lower Snake River dams since 1997, saying it´s the best way to protect Idaho´s salmon, communities and water. Bush restated his opposition to breaching — “We don´t need to be breaching any dams that are producing electricity,” he said — but a short-term population trend doesn´t make his case.

Troubling, too, is that Bush doesn´t seem to understand the importance of salmon. Touting the salmon recovery efforts, he said, “We have shown the world that we can have good quality of life and, at the same time, save salmon.” Sorry, but to us, those aren´t separate at all. Saving Idaho´s salmon is integral to preserving quality of life, not incidental to it.

On complex environmental issues, Bush needs to choose his words more carefully. On Sunday, we criticized Bush for calling an Oregon wildfire “the holocaust.”

On salmon, as well, Bush missed a chance to do a better job of explaining the issue to a national audience. Instead, he seemed more interested in restating a no-breaching stance that could quickly negate any short-term salmon recovery “momentum.”

Bush Places Heavy Stock in Short-term Salmon Gain
The Idaho Statesman, August 26, 2003

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