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Commentaries and editorials

Use Common Sense

by Edouard J. Crateau, Senior Salmon Biologist
Letter to Editor, Wood River Journal - July 21, 1999

For the past several years, the frequency and number of news articles regarding Snake River salmon recovery has increased dramatically. The debate will continue at a more rapid pace until the National Marine Fisheries Service/Army Corps of Engineers releases their 1999-2000 decision. Each news article, letter to the editor or speaker's corner, depending on which special interest group wrote the article, puts its spin on the cause of the decline of Snake and Columbia river salmon and what actions they say will bring them back. I know the people in the Northwest and, for that matter the rest of the country (as the loss of salmon is of national interest), are not sure what to believe has caused the declines in salmon returning to the Snake River.

What has been lost in this debate is a common sense look at what the salmon levels were before the four dams were constructed on the lower Snake River (Ice Harbor-1961, Lower Monumental-1969, Little Goose-1970, Lower Granite-1975), and what happened to salmon runs during and after construction. In 1962, when returning adult salmon were first counted in the Snake River after Ice Harbor Dam was put into operation, 94,200 spring summer and fall chinook entered the Snake River from the Columbia, to spawn. By the time Lower Granite Dam was completed in 1975, the salmon run had dwindled to 31,740, and four years later there were only 13,800 salmon returning to the Snake River, only 15 percent of the predam numbers. Since then, populations have continued to decline drastically. It is clearly evident what caused the 85 percent decline in the 15 years from construction of the first dam until the last dam was put into operation.

Throughout history, prior to construction of the four lower Snake River dams, there have been drastic fluctuations in ocean and in-river conditions and Snake River stocks maintained healthy population levels. Historically, there were good and bad years, but the trend over time was stable population levels, not the continually declining numbers we are experiencing today. Similar groups of salmon located below the four lower Snake River dams have not experienced this dramatic decline. In fact, these downriver stocks consistently performed two to 10 times better than Idaho's fish since the dams were completed. Prior to completion of the dams, Idaho's fish performed as well or better than their down-river counterparts. All these fish go to the same estuary and ocean, so that cannot be the problem. The primary difference is the four lower Snake River dams. It's apparent to me, putting all other arguments aside, using simple logic and common sense, that if you eliminate the one principle element that changed during the drastic 15-year decline (the four lower Snake River dams), the decline would be reversed and in time (10-20 years) we will have salmon population levels equal to or greater than pre-dam levels.

The debates that do not address the principle cause of the declining salmon stocks are not based on science or common sense, but are centered on politics and a perceived economic impact.

I'm certain that special interest groups will attempt to put their spin on this logic, but these are the facts that can't be denied. I only ask that concerned people in the Northwest and the country ask themselves one question: "Do I want salmon to continue to return to the Snake River, or do I want the four lower Snake River dams," as the debate it that simple.

by Edouard J. Crateau, Senior Salmon Biologist
Use Common Sense
Wood River Journal Letter to Editor - July 21, 1999

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