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An Entertaining Hook in the Salmon Debate

by Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times - March 1, 2000

They sang. Danced. Strutted their stuff in full-body salmon suits. Seattleites, it was clear, take their salmon seriously.

Hundreds of people turned out for a hearing convened by federal officials yesterday on Columbia Basin salmon recovery held at Seattle Center.

Passionate advocates for breaching four Lower Snake River dams met their match in a sizable contingent of pro-dam farmers, public-utility-district officials, and farm-town mayors and councilmen who made the trip from east of the mountains to also have their say.

The hearing is one of 13 being held from Missoula, Mont., to Sitka, Alaska.

Many pleaded yesterday that the dams be breached, arguing that will give salmon the best chance for recovery.

It was a far cry from a hearing on the same topic in Pasco on Feb. 18 which drew a louder, angrier, more-intense crowd overwhelmingly opposed to dam breaching.

In Seattle, there was just as much seriousness of purpose, but the city's sense of humor was on display as well.

The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition turned out salmon backers decked out in sockeye suits.

Seattle's Raging Grannies brought down the house with their feather boas, pompons and singing testimony for the feds: "Oh, we like our rivers without all those dams; So fish can swim without those awful jams; We like policies that help the fish; To save the fish is what we wish; We're radical environmentalists."

Mark Lawler of the Sierra Club and Dan Mensher strode to the microphone in buckskin jackets, boots, raccoon-skin and three-cornered hats, declaring themselves Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark with a report for their leaders that the region is much changed.

"I return after 195 years with a weary heart and discouraged soul," Lawler said. "Tragedy infects these lands and waters. The promises we made to the first people who lived here are broken . . . my heartfelt apology to the Native Americans. . . . The generations who followed us did not honor you, your rivers or the salmon."

Much of the day, three Nez Perce tribal members sang tribal songs in a drumming circle for the fish. They convened in the shadow of the Space Needle, far from their home in Lapwai, Idaho, where few Snake River salmon make it upriver anymore.

Rob Masonis of American Rivers stood next to a hand truck stacked nearly 5 feet high with salmon studies. He demanded that federal officials stop studying the salmon problem and take out the four Lower Snake River dams. "If the dams stay, the odds are high we'll never again see healthy, fishable runs of Snake River salmon," he said.

The message from east of the mountains was just as passionate, if more plainly spoken. Some expressed astonishment that an idea like taking out the dams could even be considered, and amazement that the region has gotten itself into this salmon fix. "It's really sad that we could put a man on the moon but we can't get a fish around a concrete structure," Dave Miller of Royal City, Grant County, said.

"I'll rely on the words of my 5-year-old son to tell you how I feel about this, coming over here to save the dams that give us life. He said, `Dad, tell them we are just trying to grow food.' "

Raul Diaz, a city councilman from Warden, Grant County, turned to the Bible to make his point, thundering, "In not one place in Scripture does it say to let the fish have domination over the Earth."

He warned that taking out the dams would lead to accidents on country roads if farmers have to turn to trucks, instead of barges, to ship their produce to market. "We'll lose children, not fish. Babies. Not fish," Diaz said.

Roy Davis, a farmer and port commissioner for the port of Royal Slope, was to the point: "How can any logical argument be made for such an incredibly stupid idea? Dam breaching must be out of the question."

The hearing testimony is intended to be used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as it weighs its recommendation to Congress on whether the four Lower Snake River dams should be breached to recover Snake River salmon.

The federal National Marine Fisheries Service is also putting together a biological opinion, to be issued this spring, that will govern operation of the federal hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

The fisheries service has to weigh what to do with the Lower Snake River dams as it writes that biological opinion.

Lynda Mapes
An Entertaining Hook in the Salmon Debate
Seattle Times, March 1, 2000

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