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Commentaries and editorials

Ecos Should Heed Andrus
on Breaching Snake Dams

by Editors
Editorial, Times-News, October 1, 2003

Former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus is right
when he calls dam breaching an impractical idea.

When former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus talks, environmentalists usually listen.

With a resume that includes two stints as Democratic governor and a term as Jimmy Carter's interior secretary, Andrus has a reputation that's close to sacrosanct among ecos.

So Andrus probably took some listeners by surprise last week, when he told an audience at Washington State University that dam breaching is not a practical approach to salmon recovery.

Andrus may be swimming upstream against a popular political issue for the greens, but he makes a solid argument: Breaching the lower Snake and Columbia river dams is a political dead end. Wildlife advocates need to focus on other alternatives for promoting salmon recovery.

"If the dams were not there, it would be the best for the salmon, but they're there," Andrus said at the annual Lane Family Lecture in Environmental Science at WSU. "Should they be removed, is that the answer? I think not. We have to be practical."

Andrus reached that conclusion via the same logic that has guided many other political realists. Since dam breaching requires congressional approval, the idea is basically a political non-starter. Andrus knows this. So he says wildlife advocates need to find a new approach if they really want to preserve the endangered salmon.

We agree with Andrus. The debate needs to find new solutions.

Andrus recommends retrofitting dams and dramatically revamping river management policies. We'd also suggest some reductions of commercial and tribal fishing catches for salmon on the Columbia River, which deplete salmon runs before the fish even get to the Snake River.

Andrus' day in the political sun may have passed, but today's environmentalists should listen to his experienced and savvy voice.

The all-or-nothing approach that rules out compromise usually leads nowhere. For years, dam breaching has been the sole silver bullet in the environmental lobby's gunbelt. But it's a political dud, because it aims far beyond what is realistically attainable.

This kind of far-fetched ambition is what makes many rabid environmentalists irrelevant in serious political debates.

So long as the ecos cling to implausible ideas, they'll lack support among centrists. Worse, focusing on dam breaching draws attention and energy away from other options -- options that might actually help the salmon.

Andrus recognizes that something has to give if salmon recovery is to move forward, and that something is the idea of dam breaching. If he says it's politically impractical, you can bet it is.

Times-News Editors
Ecos Should Heed Andrus on Breaching Snake Dams
The Times-News, October 1, 2003

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