the film
Commentaries and editorials

Gore says Salmon must Survive

by Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian staff
The Oregonian, May 13, 2000

The vice president addresses the issue on a visit to Portland
and criticizes George W. Bush's defense of dams

Vice President Al Gore pledged Friday in Portland to work for "quick resolution" on a plan to restore endangered Columbia River salmon runs, but he avoided saying whether four Northwest dams should be breached.

Declaring that "extinction here is not an option," Democrat Gore also criticized his Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, for ruling out destruction of the dams as a way to help salmon passage along the Columbia-Snake river system.

"Unfortunately, Gov. George W. Bush has prejudged the outcome," Gore said in a carefully written statement delivered at the start of a campaign appearance at Portland Community College.

"I feel that it is irresponsible to reach a decision or draw a conclusion without consulting all of the parties involved and without utilizing hard science. I pledge to work for a quick resolution that will involve all of the affected parties based on hard science, and I refuse to prejudge or play politics with this issue.

"We can develop a plan that can both protect the river and restore the salmon runs."

Gore's statement appeared designed to staunch criticism from even political allies -- including Gov. John Kitzhaber -- that he had been ducking an issue crucial to the economic and environmental future of the Northwest. And it comes just days ahead of Tuesday's primary election, although both he and Bush are expected to win easily.

Kitzhaber said Gore's statements satisfied his concerns and that he was now convinced the administration would move ahead on a strategy for restoring salmon runs. The National Marine Fisheries Service is supposed to deliver within the next few weeks a draft biological opinion aimed at guiding salmon recovery in the river system.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who is Oregon's chairman of the Bush campaign, called Gore's statement "just another political dodge" and said he is convinced that Gore is quietly supporting efforts by the Clinton administration to move toward breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River.

"You can understand why Al Gore has a problem with credibility when he is saying one thing and his administration is doing another," added Dan Bartlett, a Bush campaign spokesman.

At this point, it's not clear where the Clinton administration is heading on this issue. Smith says the administration's desire to take out the dams is clear from news reports stating that the White House has blocked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from formally recommending that the Snake River dams remain in place.

But environmental groups say they're worried about other reports that the fisheries service is preparing to announce that the dams should remain in place for five to 10 years while other salmon-recovery efforts are tried.

Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition said his chief concern now is that the administration make a decision on the dams in July -- when the fisheries service is scheduled to settle on a final biological opinion -- rather than delaying for several years.

At this point, Ford said, Gore "is keeping his options open, and for our part, we have no problem with that if he asserts leadership in July."

Gore didn't get into any such specifics in his salmon statement, but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the vice president promised him in a private meeting that he would consult with him and Kitzhaber after the draft fisheries service opinion is released.

"I think what he wants to do . . . is to be part of an effort with the governor and I to bring these (federal) agencies together," Wyden said.

At late as Thursday afternoon, a Gore campaign aide said the vice president didn't plan to talk about salmon during his quick visit to Portland, which was designed to focus on Social Security. The issue is politically tricky for Gore because he has influential supporters on both sides of dam-breaching. Several environmental groups have launched a national campaign to take out the dams, and many labor unions have strongly opposed the idea.

But by the time Gore met separately in private with Kitzhaber and with Wyden the vice president had decided to deliver a quick statement on the salmon on what was his first presidential campaign visit to Oregon. Gore, who holds only infrequent news conferences on the campaign trail, provided no opportunity for reporters to question him about his statement.

Although Gore didn't mention the dams, he is clearly at odds with Bush, who last summer adopted the view of Smith and other influential opponents of dam-breaching: that it would endanger the region's economy. They claim the loss of the dams would cause unacceptable reductions in hydropower, irrigation and the ability to barge wheat down the river system.

"Everybody has to understand there has to be some modifications to ease the passage of fish, but we think that can be done without breaching the dams," said Bartlett, the Bush spokesman.

Kitzhaber, the only top elected official in the region to support dam-breaching, has joined with environmental groups that say it should be a key component of salmon-recovery efforts. They say the economic impacts can be mitigated by federal aid.

"He's clearly committed himself to an effort to restore the ecosystem," Kitzhaber said, adding that Gore "will be a leader on environmental issues, but he will do it in a way that protects the Northwest economy."

Jeff Hammerlund, a Portland State University professor and expert on Northwest energy policy, said he has informally advised the Gore campaign on the salmon issue and talked briefly with Gore about the issue after the vice president's appearance.

He said it would have been inappropriate for Gore to take a stand on the dams before the federal agencies had finished their review. "The process has been established, and it's the Clinton administration's process," Hammerlund said. "Sometimes leadership means waiting to see that process through to completion."

Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian staff
Gore says Salmon must Survive
The Oregonian, May 13, 2000

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation