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Commentaries and editorials

Seattle Council Got it Right on Snake River Dams

by Charles Hudson, Ed Henderson and Jeremy Brown
Guest Columnists, The Seattle Times, October 20, 2003

Three years ago, Seattle City Council members passed a well-reasoned resolution that supported removing the four lower Snake River dams in order to restore endangered salmon.

There is no doubt about Seattle's "standing" on this issue. City Light is one of the Bonneville Power Administration's largest customers, buying enough electricity from the federal agency to meet half of its customers' needs in a normal year. Thus, the city has a duty to participate in BPA's policy decisions.

Seattle residents and businesses have paid dearly for the mismanagement of the lower Snake River, and it's absurd to suggest that they shouldn't consider whether the power they buy kills endangered salmon or violates native treaty rights. Every citizen of Seattle is a partner in treaties with tribal people of the Northwest. This is a matter of law and morality.

Lower Snake dam removal is neither an Eastern Washington vs. Western Washington issue nor an urban-rural confrontation. Nor as even some well-intentioned people believe is it a fight between sound economics and environmentalism.

Removing the four lower Snake dams need not harm farmers and will not harm local economies. Quite the contrary.

Let's look at three areas of contention:

Salmon recovery itself has enormous economic and cultural implications for the state and the entire region. Coastal and river communities depend on sustainable, fishable runs of wild salmon. Those rural communities are suffering now; effective salmon restoration would help them flourish again.

Wild salmon are central to Northwest tribes' cultural traditions and livelihood. Four Columbia Basin tribes the Yakama, the Warm Springs, the Umatilla and the Nez Perce signed treaties that reserved their permanent fishing rights, rights threatened by the decimation of the salmon and steelhead populations.

Tribal people have endured the full brunt of the lower Snake dams' assault on the river and its denizens. They know well the fallacies of half-measures that merely manage the decline rather than attack the problem.

The scientific consensus has long held that the best way to restore imperiled and endangered salmon in the region is to remove the lower Snake River dams. The 2000 Salmon Plan acknowledged that science, but instead called for an "aggressive non-breach" approach.

Three years later, it's clear that the Bush administration has been anything but aggressive in its fish-restoration efforts. U.S. District Judge James Redden's recent ruling invalidating the salmon plan confirms that the federal initiative might be more accurately described as "aggressive non-compliance."

Recent high returns of wild salmon (still short of recovery levels) are the result of favorable ocean conditions and have occurred in spite of, rather than because of, federal actions.

The Seattle City Council has chosen to provide a responsible vision where dam operators have refused. We should not ask council members to apologize for their decision. Rather, we should celebrate the stand they took for all of us, East and West, rural and urban.


Charles Hudson represents the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, the Portland-based policy and technical coordinating agency for the treaty fishing tribes of the Columbia River Basin.
Ed Henderson, of Seattle, is past president of The Mountaineers and works on energy topics with the organization's conservation division.
Jeremy Brown is a commercial fisherman from Bellingham and a board member of the Washington Trollers Association.
Seattle Council Got it Right on Snake River Dams
The Seattle Times, October 20, 2003

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