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Decision on Snake River Dams Sparks Dismay, Jabs

by Hil Anderson, United Press International
Environmental News Network - World Wire, July 20, 2000

The White House's decision to not recommend the immediate breaching of four dams in order to rehabilitate salmon habitat on the Snake River has been greeted with disappointment by environmentalists and political jabs from presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Tearing down the dams on the lower Snake would allow water to flow freely as it did for thousands of years, giving young salmon an unrestricted path to the Columbia River and to the Pacific. The concept won enthusiastic approval from environmentalists who view it as a first step toward undoing the massive river projects that had dammed scenic whitewater rivers across the nation.

Tearing down the Snake dams would, however, eliminate sources of low-priced hydroelectric power for the region and lower river levels, which would make it impossible for Idaho farmers to ship their crops by barge to the seaport at Portland, Ore.

USA Today reported Wednesday that administration officials would tell Congress that the removal of the dams should be kept as an option, but that other methods to preserves the salmon should be explored.

"Dam removal may in the end prove to be necessary, but it is not the place to start," National Marine Fisheries Service official Will Stelle said in prepared testimony.

George Frampton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday that the actual decision to raze the earthen dams could be delayed for as long as 10 years.

The revelation irked some conservationists that maintain the dams had upset the delicate reproductive cycle of the salmon and had to go if the endangered salmon were to be preserved.

"People get it," said Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. "We are the last generation that can save these magnificent salmon; if we want to recover the most remarkable inland salmon run in the world, if we want to meet our obligations to future generations and to native people, if we want to stop wasting money -- we must bypass the four lower Snake River dams."

Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, said in a statement, "The administration is out of step with both the science and the public on restoring salmon."

Bush is not in favor of getting rid of the dams, but he used the occasion to accuse the White House and Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, of trying to shelve the controversial issue until after the election.

"Today's announcement is the latest attempt by Bill Clinton and Al Gore to make this issue go away until after the election," Bush said. "I have consistently said we should not destroy these dams; Al Gore wants the door left open to their destruction."

The vice president defended the decision to proceed slowly by declaring that sound science must lead the way in the development of a plan to spare the salmon from extinction.

"I have consistently said that extinction (of the salmon) is not an option, and neither is severe economic dislocation," Gore said in a statement. "We must save the salmon and build the economy of the Pacific Northwest. The way to achieve these ends is through an objective -- a science-based process -- not by rushing to rash judgments."

Gore accused Bush of "playing politics" with the issue, and said the Clinton administration's strategy was aimed at both preserving the fish and preventing any economic harm but that more study was necessary.

Hil Anderson, United Press International
Decision on Snake River Dams Sparks Dismay, Jabs
Environmental News Network, July 20, 2000

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