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Craig Calls Result of a 30-year Study a "Quick Fix"

by Ted Koch
Idaho Statesman, July 12, 1999

I read a June 28 Speakers Corner by Sen. Larry Craig referring to the need to remove the lower four Snake River dams to save Idaho salmon as a "quick fix."

I personally am surprise to see the senator make several erroneous remarks regarding science after having had an informed and intelligent discussion on the science of the issue with his staff in Washington, D.C., just a few weeks earlier.

So why is the senator then speaking in such a seemingly uninformed and misleading manner to his constituents back here in Idaho?

The senator refers to dam removal as a "quick fix" called for because the public has not seen "immediate results" from scientists working on the existing system to save salmon.

Surely, the senator knows that the very legislative body he works for has sponsored the work of scientists for the last 30 years to try to figure out ways to mitigate the effects of the lower four Snake River dams?

Specifically, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been implementing juvenile salmon barging and other in-river migration enhancements as "interim" strategies for mitigating the impacts of the dams for the better part of 30 years.

Hardly a quick fix itself, this is a program with a clear association with 30 years of declines in salmon numbers, despite the corps' valiant efforts.

And certainly the senator must know that the very agency charged by his institution 25 years ago to mitigate the effects of these dams by producing hatchery salmon recently concluded that it could not achieve its salmon mitigation goals under the current river configuration with the dams.

Think about that -- we have been paying for the last 25 years for a hatchery program specifically intended to mitigate the effects of the very four Snake River dams in question, and the agency overseeing the program says it can't work as long as the dams remain.

And the senator calls removing the dams a "quick fix"?

Finally, the senator states that more study is necessary before any conclusions can be reached with confidence.

The study he cites -- the PATH report -- concluded that bypassing the dams was the only alternative that provided greater than a 50 percent chance of recovery for salmon stocks evaluated (80 to 99 percent chances were the figures estimated). Science will never offer more than an estimate of probabilities -- there is no such thing as a "scientific guarantee" -- and the PATH study is about as confident as we scientists are going to get.

After 30 years of studying the slide toward extinction, how many more decades and millions of dollars of "study" does the senator advocate?

As president-elect of the largest organization of fisheries scientists in Idaho, I do not know of a single scientist who has expressed disagreement with the fact that ocean conditions must improve if we are to see full recovery of salmon.

But if the disappearance of Snake River salmon in Idaho is caused by ocean conditions, how do we explain the relatively healthier runs of salmon in the Columbia River and its tributaries immediatley downstream of the the Snake River?

Snake and Columbia River salmon stocks swim in the same ocean and migrate through the same lower Columbia River. It's the four extra dams Idaho salmon face that make up the clear difference in habitat conditions for salmon in the two areas.

I believe it's time for the region's political leaders to embrace their obligation to the taxpayers to communicate clearly and honestly about the hard decision -- restore harvestable runs of wild salmon, or keep the four dams.

Above all, I hope our leaders stop blaming scientists for the uncertainty the region faces.

Edward "Ted" D. Koch of Boise is an endangered species biologist
Craig Calls Result of a 30-year Study a "Quick Fix"
Idaho Statesman - July 12, 1999

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