Don't Dam Huggers
by Jim Fisher
Idaho Sen. Larry Craig didn't put the government's fish counters out of business soon enough. They are still counting, and finding that spilling water over the region's dams apparently helped more salmon get to the sea this year than would have happened without the spills.
Results from the study by the Fish Passage Center deal with only one stock of fish from one stretch of the Columbia River, but are persuasive nonetheless. The center found that 74 percent of sub- yearling fall chinook survived the downstream trip past the series of dams this year, compared to rates between 30 percent and 50 percent for no-spill summers from 2001 through 2004.
The news was welcomed by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which requested the study, but you can bet there are a number of parties that will be less heartened by the news.
Among them is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which went to court seeking to override U.S. District Court Judge James Redden's order to spill water because of a low-water year's threat to migrating salmon. NOAA's Fisheries division changed its mind about what is good for fish after President Bush was elected promising to protect Snake and Columbia River dams.
NOAA Fisheries, and Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld, argued that more fish survive when they are barged through the dams instead of being spilled over them.
"We believe it is very risky to allow fish to go through the spillways in low water years," Brian Gorman of NOAA Fisheries said in June following Redden's order. The same month, Craig, Idaho's senior U.S. senator, attached a provision to an appropriations bill erasing funding for the Fish Passage Center.
When you think about it, though, you have to wonder why those who want to protect the dams from breaching would oppose summer spills in low-water years. They say they want to preserve the Snake River salmon runs through means other than breaching, but they prove resistant to most of the other suggested means.
That doesn't serve their purpose very well. Neither would killing the messengers who tell us when something other than breaching works.
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