Obama Hooked Into Salmon Plight
by Editorial Board
San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 2009
The Obama environmental team is playing it safe in its first encounter with plight of endangered salmon in the Northwest. In a high-pressure legal fight over the fish's survival, the White House is asking for more time, money and judicial patience.
At issue are the low numbers of salmon and steelhead on the Snake River, dotted with four power dams in Washington state. The Obama answer: a request to a federal judge to spend nearly $1 billion on watershed improvements, controls on predators and invasive species, and a close watch on fish populations. If the problem worsens, there would be triggers for additional steps, the White House team promised.
The result is clearly the most expedient available in the court battle that dates back to the Clinton era. The Obama pledge builds on a Bush administration opinion that was judged too tame by the federal court in boosting salmon numbers.
But it stops short of much bolder options to order more water flows, which would anger wheat farmers in western Washington, and take down the dams, a position favored by environmentalists. Also, this fall's salmon counts are way up, making drastic steps a hard sell.
In this case, California is more than a near-neighbor on the map. The ocean salmon season here has ended because of puny fish stocks. Earlier this year, this downward trend led to major breakthrough: an agreement to dismantle four dams on the Klamath River along the Oregon border.
This plan will need assistance from the White House. If it remains guided by science, not politics, then salmon may flourish again in the Klamath and Snake waters. President Obama shouldn't dodge the hard choices that may lie ahead.
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