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Hearings Reveal Support for Saving Salmon

by Dan Skinner, Idaho Rivers United
Idaho Statesman, July 1, 1999

Recently a team of University of Idaho social scientists under contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted a series of nine Interactive Community Forums in southern and eastern Idaho. Much to the surprise of the facilitators, bypassing the four dams on the lower Snake River was overwhelmingly supported by folks across the political spectrum, from Salmon to Twin Falls to Boise.

The purpose of the forums was to explore the changes in our communities as salmon and steelhead stocks have plemmeted over the past 25 years. The facilitators then asked participants to predict how our communities will fare 20 years from now under the three salmon recover options being considered by the Corps of Engineers.

The options are fairly straightforward. The first would continue the status quo -- barging and trucking young salmon into extinction. Over the past 15 years, Northwest taxpayers and rate payers have spent an estimated $3 billion on this failed strategy. Considering our wild salmon stocks plummeted by 90 percent in spite of these expenditures, this option would likely lead to extinction.

The second option would increase fish barging and flow augmentation. Not once since the lower Snake dams were completed has the Corps achieved its goal of returning two to six adult salmon for every 100 outmigrating smolts. Scientists tell us that at least 2 percent of outmigrating juvenile salmon need to return as adults to sustain the skeletal fishery we currently have. The most recent smolt-to-adult ratio is less than one-half of 1 percent. That's one-fifth the survival rate we need just to hold the line.

Flow augmentation is a highly contentious issue. Right now, we send 427,000 acre-feet of southern Idaho water downriver to aid ocean-bound fish. Under Option 2, that amount would increase by 1 million to 3 million acre-feet. Rough estimates state this would dry up about 500,000 acres of farmland in the upper Snake River basin. This is not a wise option for southern Idaho. It would surely cost some hard-working Idahoans their farms.

There are no proposed increases in flow augmentation in the dam bypass option. In fact, The National Marine Fisheries Service states in a recent report that bypassing the dams might remove the need for flow augmentation altogether.

The third option is the natural river option. It would remove the earthen portions of the four dams on the lower Snake River. This option is clearly the best means to restore our fisheries to self-sustaining, harvestable levels.

The overwhelming majority of scientists, including the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and more than 200 Pacific Northwest scientists, agree that this will bring our fish back.

Recent economic studies by Washington State University researchers show that railroads and trucks can replace the lost barge traffic with relatively low cost-effective investments in transportation infrastructure. they predict that shipping costs for grain farmers, with public investment in rail cars, would most likely stay within one cent per bushel of current rates.

In short, the forums held in central and southern Idaho exposed what the conservation community has been saying all along. We can support our agriculture and our commercial fishing and recreational communities by bypassing the four lower Snake River dams. We will save millions of dollars wasted on ineffective recovery measures and restore our salmon and steelhead numbers to the vialble levels that existed before the lower Snake dams were built.

In town after town, Idahoans brought the issue to light. People care about their salmon and steelhead. Extinction is not an option. Even in traditionally conservative rural communities floks agreed that bypassing dams will help farmers, fisherman and fish.

Dan Skinner - Idaho Rivers United
Hearings Reveal Support for Saving Salmon
Idaho Statesman - July 1, 1999

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