the film
Commentaries and editorials

We will Save Our Salmon
by Investing in Innovation
-- Not by Paying Lawyers

by Patricia Barclay
The Idaho Statesman, June 5, 2005

Whether or not Judge James Redden's decision leads to mandates on how the four lower Snake River dams are operated and how much water is taken from Idaho farmers remains to be seen. But the occasion should provide an opportunity to review history and should cause us to examine what is important and how we can accomplish it.

In the last five years, hatchery salmon have returned in record numbers. The four lower Snake River dams are still producing power. In fact, only four of the 25 endangered or threatened West Coast salmon and steelhead runs pass those dams. Tearing them out will do nothing to benefit the Snake River runs or the other 21 runs.

This year the spring chinook run is well below biologists' estimates. The cause is unknown, but many experts point to changing ocean conditions as the one factor that is different from last season.

Groups have staked out positions on both sides, and lots of rhetoric has been flung around. Perhaps now is the time to ask questions and look at possible solutions.

We fish for hatchery fish -- not endangered wild fish. The economic benefits come from hatchery fish. Many hatcheries are supported by revenue from the power produced by the lower Snake River.

Money from power sales supports a new style of hatchery that more closely mimics nature and could result in hatchery fish that are closer to their wild cousins and that return in larger numbers. Without the funds from power sales, who will fund those hatcheries?

We use the waterway created by the dams to ship goods from the Northwest around the world. One barge takes 134 trucks off our highways, using less fuel and producing fewer emissions.

The dams produce cheap power; however, it is that cheap power that allows Northwest manufacturers to compete in a global market. Destroying the dams will require additional sources of power at higher prices with their own environmental impacts.

The $64,000 question is whether we must trade salmon fishing for a growing economy that provides jobs that support Northwest families. The answer is no.

We are learning to mimic nature when we raise hatchery fish.

We've tested spillway wiers that allow smolt to pass a dam using a minimum amount of water, letting irrigation, navigation and power production continue.

We move smolt through the reservoirs in barges -- in fact, many of the fish that returned to the Snake Rivers in abundance during recent years made part of their journey in barges.

If barging fish seems unnatural, we can create artificial streams that bypass reservoirs and dams, allowing the fish to move more quickly to the ocean. That technology has been used successfully in other places.

We have even tested strobe lights and sound systems that can guide fish into bypasses.

We can choose a future with dams and salmon for fishing, but it's going to require us to focus on spending our resources doing things to recover salmon rather than paying lawyers to argue in court.

Patricia Barclay is executive director of the Idaho Council on Industry & Environment, a nonprofit group that promotes the use of facts, science and balanced discussion in making environmental-policy decisions.
We will Save Our Salmon by Investing in Innovation -- Not by Paying Lawyers
The Idaho Statesman, June 5, 2005

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