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Commentaries and editorials

Ignorance Adds Extra Costs
to Salmon Recovery

by Editors
The Daily News, December 2, 2005

Sen. Larry Craig must believe ignorance is bliss when it comes to salmon recovery efforts in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The Idaho Republican reportedly has slipped language into an energy and water appropriations bill that effectively eliminates the Fish Passage Center, a small agency that counts endangered salmon as they pass through federal dams.

Craig's problem with the center can be traced to a decision handed down last summer by a federal judge in Portland and later upheld by a federal appeals court in San Francisco. The courts found the government's salmon recovery effort to be insufficient and ordered increased water flows at five Northwest dams. The finding was largely based on data generated by the 12 biologists and computer scientists at the Fish Passage Center.

We can sympathize with the senator's frustration, though not his manner of venting it.

The judges' dismissal of the ongoing recovery efforts as inadequate is baffling. The Bonneville Power Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are committed to a 10-year salmon recovery plan that's will cost Northwest ratepayers about $6 billion.

The federal court decision, if it stands, will add a considerable amount to that cost. The increased spills ordered at the five hydroelectric dams will cost the BPA an estimated $67 million in lost revenue. Last summer, Cowlitz PUD officials said local power rates could increase 4 to 5 percent as a result, depending on how much BPA would have to pay to replace the power that would have been generated by the spilled water. (bluefish notes: in actuallity, BPA is proposing a 1.6% rate reduction.)

The prospect of having to pay more for fish recovery without any certainty of getting more for our money is bitter medicine, indeed. But Craig's move to eliminate an agency that provides vital information on salmon survival will only dumb down the recovery effort. And it won't save ratepayers a penny.

To the contrary, Jeffrey Koenings, director of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department, maintains that closing the center will likely impose additional costs on ratepayers, according to a report Wednesday in The The Washington Post. In a letter to members of Northwest congressional delegations, Koenings wrote, "Eliminating or reducing funding for the Fish Passage Center will actually increase salmon recovery costs, as the states and tribes will need additional staff to replace the lost functions."

The Idaho senator is mistaken to suppose that axing this agency will in any way serve the interest of his constituents. Science isn't the problem. It's ignorance that drives up costs and threatens Northwest salmon. Perhaps cooler heads can prevail before the center is forced to shut down in March.

Related Pages:
Senator Aims to Kill Agency That Tracks Salmon by Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, 6/23/5
Zeroing Out the Messenger by Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, 11/30/5

Ignorance Adds Extra Costs to Salmon Recovery
The Daily News, December 2, 2005

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