Advocates say Salmon Center
by Eric Barker
Language introduced by Idaho's Larry Craig spells doom for project
Salmon advocates are campaigning for the politically doomed Fish Passage Center to be re-created.
The center, which tracks anadromous fish runs in the Columbia River Basin and analyzes salmon recovery efforts, has been targeted by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. Language Craig added to the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill directs the Bonneville Power Administration to stop funding the center.
The language survived a Senate-House conference committee this week and the $30.5 billion compromise spending bill was passed by the House. The Senate is slated to vote on the measure as soon as Monday.
If senators pass the legislation as expected, it will effectively kill the center, which salmon advocates claim is essential.
"However it is substituted or replaced, we need something very much like the same entity," said Pat Ford, executive director of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition at Boise.
Craig claims officials at the center produce biased science designed to support breaching the four lower Snake River dams and also said the duties of the center are redundant. Dissolving the center and farming out its duties would save money, he said.
"I have a duty to make sure the science and data BPA and consequently, the public, pays for are the very best, free from bias and agendas," Craig said in a news release. "The region's salmon recovery programs will soon be better prepared to make policy decisions based on accurate, reliable data."
The language says the duties of the Fish Passage Center should be shifted to unspecified public universities in the Northwest.
Studies performed by the Fish Passage Center were cited in a lawsuit that overturned the federal government's latest plan to operate the Snake and Columbia river hydropower system. The center also released a preliminary study that indicated last summer's court-ordered spill of water at Snake and Columbia River dams improved survival of juvenile fall chinook migrating to the ocean.
There is some speculation many of the center's duties could be transferred to the University of Washington, Columbia Basin Research Center. The center is operated by the School of Aquatic and Fishery Science and supports the DART Web site that is a clearinghouse of fish passage information. Dan Whiting, a spokesman for Sen. Craig, said the UW center would likely take on some of the Fish Passage Center's data collection duties.
The DART program is headed by James Anderson, a research associate professor at the school.
Anderson said that, if asked, his program would be willing to take on some but not all of the work done by the Fish Passage Center. His center likely would not do field work like inspections of fish ladders at dams but it could post and organize the reams of data associated with the fish runs.
"The main function that I see we would be addressing is just the housing of the data and providing it to the community," he said.
The school could keep costs down by tapping into its virtually endless supply of undergraduate computer science majors to post the data, Anderson said.
"That makes it very, very nice for us. They do really fine work."
Anderson said he did not know if salmon professionals would ask his group to analyze fish passage data.
Ford said transferring any of the duties to DART and Anderson would be a mistake. Anderson has testified in court and before Congress against some of the scientific studies used to justify breaching Snake River dams.
"To put in charge, what is supposed to the region's independent eyes and ears on salmon recovery, a man who has made a lot of money from one side of that and is completely untrustworthy to the region's Indian tribes and a lot of the salmon professionals in the states and the salmon community -- fishermen and conservationists -- would be both wrong and very stupid," he said.
There has been no decision made regarding how the Fish Passage Center will be replaced.
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