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Don't Twist Science for Political Ends

by Editors
Daily Astorian, July 5, 2005

Salmon data needs to stay in the hands of trustworthy professionals

Living by the credo that if the facts don't support your position, make sure the public doesn't have the facts, Idaho Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig last week indulged in a truly revolting bit of demagoguery.

Craig and the upriver interests with a big financial stake in maximizing industrial use of Columbia and Snake river water have fumed for years about data collected and analyzed by the Fish Passage Center. The center, supervised by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, of which Idaho is a member, has published results of numerous studies over the years proving the desirability of leaving water in the river system for fish and other wildlife. Independent experts have looked at what the center does and said it is acting appropriately.

U.S. District Court Judge James Redden's recent order that water be spilled from dams this summer to aid salmon migration is the proximate cause for Craig's attack on the Fish Passage Center - its findings form the basis of Redden's decision.

The proposition that sending migrating salmon downriver through violently churning hydroelectric turbines results in many of them dying will not strike most readers as a controversial shot in the dark. The Fish Passage Center's sin, in Craig's eyes, is to give this conclusion the imprimatur of science. To eliminate this thorn in his side, Craig added language to a Senate energy bill instructing Bonneville Power Administration to cease funding the center.

As neatly summarized by The Washington Post, at the heart this dispute over salmon is a disagreement about how to increase their survival as they negotiate federal dams that have transformed the Snake and Columbia from the world's premier salmon highway to a series of slow-moving lakes separated by huge slabs of concrete. Because of the Northwest Power Act of 1980, BPA is required to operate federal dams in a manner that places salmon "on a par" with hydropower and other industries that use the river. If BPA can no longer obtain salmon information from a discontinued Fish Passage Center, it will be able to look elsewhere for the science to justify its decisions.

This echoes the Bush administration's well-known proclivity for carefully stage managing science to fit its own world view and the needs of key campaign contributors.

As it has done in making management decisions for sensitive public lands, this will provide the administration with an opening to hire an ostensibly independent private contractor to provide the "science" justifying river decisions. It is a safe bet that such a contractor will have deep ties to deep-pocketed industries that continue to resent sharing the Columbia with salmon.

It's important to let our congressional delegation know we want salmon science to remain in the able hands of the scientists at the Fish Passage Center.

Don't Twist Science for Political Ends
Daily Astorian - July 5, 2005

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