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Heed the Expert's Words

by Editors
Daily Astorian, August 15, 2005

Salmon data needs to stay in the hands of trustworthy professionals

Northwest should listen to biologist's warning on impact of dams Sometimes the most clear-headed information about controversial issues comes from those who speak out after retirement, when they no longer have any financial interest in a particular position. Such is the case with a biologist who has become a vocal critic of Snake River dams.

Idaho biologist Don Chapman, 74, spent his career as a consultant for electric utilities. As such, he argued the standard party line among dam supporters, that mechanisms like fish ladders and barges are good enough to get migrating salmon around the Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Lower Granite dams between the Idaho border and the Snake-Columbia River junction.

These were some of the last big dams constructed in the U.S. before the environmental movement and fisheries proponents succeeded in turning public opinion against the industrialization of river systems. By the time the Snake dams were built, the consequences for salmon were widely recognized, and dam supporters were forced to undertake more mitigation measures than in the past. But Snake River fish runs have still struggled. The effectiveness of artificial salmon transportation is dubious, at best.

Chapman now says the Snake River dams should be removed to help salmon. The former industry biologist bases his change of heart on both science and politics.

On the science side, Chapman believes that salmon are being placed at additional risk now due to the warming of the Columbia and its tributaries and changes in the Pacific Ocean that may be linked to global warming. The food chain in the ocean is seriously compromised this year, an alarming development that scientists do not yet understand.

On the political side, Chapman says the Bush administration's stated position that dams are now an immutable part of the natural environment is "so contrary to logic and common sense that I feel offended."

The economic and political forces that have a huge vested interest in the dams are unlikely to allow the facts to get in the way of maintaining the status quo. But recent federal court decisions forcing the release of dam water to aid fish migration, coupled with the changing alliances of experts like Chapman, are sure signs of tectonic shifts in how the nation deals with the Columbia River system.

Support for Snake River dams has sprung a leak. It is only a matter of time before this becomes a flood of change.

Heed the Expert's Words
Daily Astorian - August 15, 2005

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