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Commentaries and editorials

Flawed Summary of Dams

by Adrienne Strickland
Columbia Basin Herald, July 25, 2003

In his essay regarding the Snake River Dams (CBH, July 17), Senator Sheahan presents an incredibly flawed summary of the court ordered review of NMFS's 2000 BiOp regarding the viability of 12 species of fish in the Columbia River Basin. Let's set the record straight so that we can all begin to make our decisions based on facts and common sense rather than political spin.

In the 2000 BiOp, NOAA states: "native salmon and steelhead, and many resident fish species, remain in a state of perilous decline throughout the Columbia River Basin concurrent with rapidly increasing human population growth and even greater pressure on existing natural resources." The BiOp concludes that continuing to operate the dams in the current fashion will jeopardize salmon and acknowledges that the standing mitigations to remedy the situation, while adequate for the short term, do not address the long term recovery issue. More specifically, eight species "continued existence" cannot be assured by their plan. Continued existence does not mean continued abundance. If only one fish returns to spawn, the "continued existence" standard is met and even that can't be assured. This clearly indicates that the status quo cannot be tolerated if we value not only our recreational opportunities and the sanctity of created beings themselves, but the livelihods of the hard working fishermen who rely on salmon to feed their families.

In the BiOp, NOAA proposes a "reasonable and prudent alternative course of action" as an answer to these problems. Senator Sheahan states that this RPA will work just fine once the "technical problems" are fixed. It is these "problems" that prompted the challenge to the BiOp, and contrary to Sheahan's suggestion, they are not merely technical. Numerous conservation and fishing groups, as well as the State of Oregon, contended that the BiOp's conclusion that everything will turn out fine is both "arbitrary and capricious" and with this the court agreed. The court cited the state of Oregon's amicus brief as a fine summary of the major problem with the BiOp in that it "relies upon actions for which necessary funding is unavailable, actions for which the agencies lack authority, and actions that are not reasonably likely to occur because of lack of binding agreements."

So, while Senator Sheahan's belief that the BiOp provides the "necessary framework" for salmon recovery may be well founded, the BiOp does not provide the rest of the package: funding, authority and agreements. It seems clear that if Senator Sheahan truly believes in the BiOp, he should put his energies into working to fill in these blanks, thereby working toward a possible real solution -- salmon and dams.

Instead, he chooses to mudsling, claiming that the groups who brought this problem to court did so in order to remove the dams. In fact, the court opinion makes clear that the intent of this suit was to compel NMFS to reinitiate consultations regarding the RPA as required under the Endangered Species Act. Additionally, it was the NMFS that required these groups to file their new 60-day intent to sue because NMFS stated that requested consultations were illegal without such notice. So who,s clogging up our court systems with frivolous lawsuits? If NMFS had agreed to continue consultations rather than insisting that they be compelled by law to do so, the new suit would be unnecessary.

Indeed the dams in the Pacific Northwest should not be arbitrarily torn down -- unlike so many other energy sources, hydro power is inexpensive, clean and renewable. However, we cannot ignore our role as stewards of the world around us and simply be resistant to change. It's easy to point fingers and make unsupported claims of "bad science" and the slippery slope claim that if the Snake River dams, that together produce only 5 percent of the Northwest's power, are torn down, the rest are sure to perish. It's much more difficult to come together, look at the facts and create a plan that will do the right thing. Are our legislators up to the task?

Adrienne Strickland, Moses Lake
Flawed Summary of Dams
Columbia Basin Herald, July 25, 2003

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