the film
Commentaries and editorials

Bust the Dams, Save the Salmon

by Editorial Board
The Buffalo News, August 10, 2009

This year's change of federal administrations has changed many things, and now it has a chance to change one more: the fate of a far-away fish.

By Friday, the Obama administration has to tell a federal court whether it will support a flawed Bush administration plan or work with a wide range of Pacific Northwest interests to save that fish, an economy and a way of life. The federal government, so far, keeps coming up with inadequate remediation plans that are driving some species of salmon toward extinction.

This fight has been going on for more than a decade, and it should end. Sit down with the stakeholders'beers optional.

The issue involves four relatively low-about hydropower dams on the Snake River in the eastern part of the state of Washington. The dams produce about 4 percent of the region's power, keeping electric costs there lower. But they also endanger 12 species of salmon, including some types that survived four Columbia River dams that provide 25 percent of the region's power.

The federal government, in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, has sought to avoid the estimated $1 billion cost of removing the dams to comply with the Endangered Species Act with a succession of remediation plans 'including years of even more costly trucking of tanker loads of river water and salmon around the dams that block spawning and downstream return runs. Federal courts have rejected three of those plans as inadequate under the law. A fourth is now under consideration.

In the meantime, the decline of the salmon threatens the salmon fisheries and related industries'and also threatens the salmon heritage at the heart of Native American culture in the Pacific Northwest.

For years, proponents of dam demolition have argued that removing those barriers would not inordinately burden other industries and, in fact, would make shipping farm produce cheaper and easier. Economic studies show mixed results'$ 130 million to $140 million in annual economic benefits from the dams, but at the price of a 90 percent decline in salmon stocks and the loss of 25,000 fisheries jobs.

The last Bush administration plan now under review still is opposed by environmental groups, conservationists, tribes and the state of Oregon. The Obama administration asked for time to review the science and the plan's level of compliance with the Endangered Species Act, and the court agreed while urging consideration of dam removal.

The time for half-measures is past. Indeed, it's too late for at least one species of salmon. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration leader Jane Lubchenco, herself a career marine biologist, should lead an administration effort to solve this problem for good by removing four Lower Snake River dams and giving the salmon a chance to recover.

Editorial Board
Bust the Dams, Save the Salmon
The Buffalo News, August 10, 2009

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation