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Analysis: Conflict over
Washington State Dams and Salmon

by Jeff Brady
Listen National Public Radio, September 3, 2004

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

In the Pacific Northwest, the conflict over generating electricity and preserving a great natural resource is taking a new turn. The issue is whether Northwest salmon can survive the continued existence of four large dams in Washington state. The dams produce huge amounts of power but severely limit the migration cycle of the fish. Now the Bush administration says it has a plan that can save the dams and the salmon. But as NPR's Jeff Brady reports, environmentalists and fishermen are not convinced.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

For nearly a decade, environmentalists have pushed for removing four dams on the lower Snake River. They say that will help boost fish populations currently listed under the Endangered Species Act. Michael Garrity with American Rivers says these are the same fish that helped save the Lewis and Clark party from starving during their voyage out west 200 years ago.

Mr. MICHAEL GARRITY (American Rivers): They reported seeing these fish basically back to back across the river. They said you could basically walk across their backs.

BRADY: Environmental and fishing groups say today less than 10 percent of those historic runs of fish remain. Business and agriculture interests, however, want the dams to stay. They credit them with boosting the local economy. Not only do the four dams in question make it possible for wheat- and timber-laden barges to travel all the way into Idaho, they also produce enough electricity to power Seattle. The National Marine Fisheries Service has spent the past decade trying to figure out how to bring the salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers back from the brink of extinction. The agency had left open the option of breaching the four dams until now. Bob LOHN heads the Fisheries Service Northwest office.

Mr. BOB LOHN (National Marine Fisheries Service): What we've determined, using the best available science, is the dams don't have to be removed in order to save fish.

BRADY: Instead, LOHN says the government will help fish by spending millions on mitigation efforts. This includes dam modifications that help fish get around the structures. But Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association says mitigation alone won't fix the problem.

Mr. GLEN SPAIN (Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association): Given that the dams produce about 85 percent of all human-induced mortality, that is ridiculous. And it's a position that was probably going to be laughed out of court, frankly.

BRADY: Spain charges that the Bush administration pressured the Fisheries Service to reach this conclusion. President Bush made it clear that he wants the dams to stay during a visit to the Northwest a year ago.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The economy of this part of the world has relied upon the steady supply of hydropower. And we got a energy problem in America. We don't need to be breaching any dams that are producing electricity.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

BRADY: Bob LOHN with the Fisheries Service says the president didn't pressure him to keep the dams, but he says his agency certainly was aware of what Mr. Bush wanted.

Mr. LOHN: All of the guidance I've gotten from the Bush administration was to follow the best available science. There was no direction to reach a particular outcome other than the president's policy, which was consistent with good science.

BRADY: One fact the Fisheries Service has in its corner right now is that even with the dams in place, fish runs have improved significantly in recent years. Favorable ocean conditions have played a role in that, but just how much of a role no one can say. Ocean conditions are cyclical. And there are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to the science of managing fish. But Bob LOHN with the Fisheries Service says researchers are always learning more, and he doesn't doubt that technology will help boost salmon numbers in coming years, even with the dams intact. Environmentalists and fishing groups don't share that optimism.

Like most battles over fish in the Northwest, this issue likely will be settled in a courtroom. Once the Fisheries Service makes official its plan to keep the dams, fish advocates say they'll ask a judge to reject it. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

Related Pages:
(Listen) Include Bred Salmon in Wild Species Count All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 4/29/4

Jeff Brady
Analysis: Conflict over Washington State Dams and Salmon
National Public Radio, September 3, 2004

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