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Hurting, Not Harmony

Because of Four Dams, the Fish are Dying
Guest Opinion from Bill Sedivy, Idaho Rivers United
May 27, 1999 Boise Weekly

The Guest Opinion written last week by Dr. Greg Nelson, of the Idaho Farm Bureau Foundation, "Life in Harmony: Salmon Solutions Are Working Just Fine, Thank You," certainly painted a very pleasant picture of the status of salmon and steelhead in Idaho.

Unfortunately, Dr. Nelson chose to ignore the facts.

Consider that every single salmon and steelhead run in Idaho is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA):

Harmony is not the word I would use to describe this disastrous reality. Idaho's salmon and steelhead are hurting.

Dams are the problem. In the 1950s and '60s, there was a salmon and steelhead run of about 100,000 fish in the lower Snake River. The Columbia River dams had taken a toll, but the population was sustaining itself, people and industry. Since the completion of the last of four lower Snake dams in 1975, the run has decreased by 90 percent.

Last year, one sockeye salmon returned to Redfish Lake.


While Dr. Nelson and some folks in industry would have us believe that dams are not the problem for Idaho's wild salmon, virtually all available science says otherwise. The main support for this statement is the fact that comparable salmon and steelhead runs below the lower Snake dams (like the John Day River runs) are much, much healthier than the runs fighting to make their way to Idaho.

The downstream stocks face exactly the same conditions as the Snake River fish, except for the four uppermost dams--the same dams on the Columbia, the same predators, the same commercial fishing pressures and the same ocean conditions as the Snake River fish. Why aren't Snake River salmon and steelhead surviving as well as their cousins in the lower reaches of the Columbia basin?

We built four dams to many.

Previous attempts to save our dying fish have failed. The Farm Bureau would have us continue the expensive practices of barging and trucking fish when there is resounding evidence that it is not working. We have spent about $3 billion on these fish in the last 15 years. Taxpayers and electric customers take note: $3 billion! But in that time, our fish populations have continued to decline--dramatically.

For the 21 years that fish have been barged around the lower Snake dams, return rates have not been adequate to sustain populations.

Right now, with barging in full taxpayer-funded swing, we are getting less than one-half of 1 percent of our fish back. So, if a thousand fish go out, we get 3 or 4 back.

Barging is not working. Barging is a recipe for extinction.

Hatcheries are another tool used by the agencies to help keep depleted salmon stocks up. These fish, while important, are genetically inferior to wild stocks. It takes nine hatchery fish to reproduce as well as one wild fish.

We need wild fish. We need harmony.

Finally, when we discuss bypassing the four lower Snake River dams as a way to save wild salmon and steelhead, we should remember why those dams were built in the first place. The four lower Snake River dams were built to provide a cheap route to the sea from Lewiston and central Idaho. The dams provide no flood control, no irrigation storage and very little power (about 4 percent of the Northwest grid).

There are other ways to ship goods out of Lewiston at competitive prices. Science says there is no better way to save Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead than bypassing the four lower Snake dams.

In conclusion, "staying the course" won't work for Idaho's salmon and steelhead, Dr. Nelson. I don't think so, most scientist don't think so, the Idaho Fish and Game doesn't think so, and neither do scientist working for Idaho's Indian tribes.

Bypassing the lower Snake dams will save salmon and steelhead, and it won't hurt commerce in Idaho.

That's harmony.

Ordering a video copy of RedFish BlueFish benefits IRU efforts to save Idaho's wild salmon and steelhead.

Bill Sedivy Exective Director, Idaho Rivers United
Hurting, Not Harmony
Guest Opinion, Boise Weekly - p.5, May 27, 1999

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