Salmon Insanityby Staff
Green Scissors, December 9, 2005
Benjamin Franklin once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Although applicable to many federal government activities, none may reflect Mr. Franklin's insight better than federal efforts to restore endangered salmon species along the Columbia and Snake rivers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Over the past two decades, the federal government has squandered more than $3.3 billion on salmon recovery efforts and in the past ten years alone has offered up at least three different recovery plans. Yet all three plans have been ruled illegal by federal courts and according to the Government Accountability Office, the billions of tax dollars spent have been completely wasted.
The latest symptom revealing the federal government's continued ailment is a small provision inserted into the back pages of a recent federal spending bill forcing the closure of a little-known agency, the Fish Passage Center. Widely recognized and relied upon by regional fishery managers as an independent and reliable source of scientific information on salmon recovery, the Fish Passage Center closely monitors the status of migrating salmon. In the past, information from the Fish Passage Center has been instrumental in proving that previous salmon recovery plans were inadequate.
The undeniable problem is that dozens of federal dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers have blocked fish passage, resulting in a massive depopulation of fish species over the past 30 years. The federal government's answer to this dilemma? A mad hatter's scheme that would be comical if it weren't a sad reality. The federal government continues to concentrate its efforts on siphoning millions of baby salmon out of the river, blasting them through a series of pipes into trucks and barges, and then driving them hundreds of miles downstream to be released near the ocean. The result of this Byzantine process has been continued fish declines and billions of dollars thrown down the rabbit hole.
Closer scrutiny, however, reveals there may be a method to this madness. The federal government and representatives of the Northwest region are wasting time and federal dollars to do one thing: protect below-market electricity rates. The Northwest region is the sole beneficiary of one of the most significant public works investments in the history of the United States: The Federal Columbia River Power System (FCPRS). The FCRPS is a series of 31 federally owned and operated dams - built with taxpayer dollars - in the Columbia and Snake River Basin. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sells the inexpensive power from these dams directly to Pacific Northwest utilities.
Four of these 31 dams, those along the lower Snake River, are responsible for some of the more significant fish kills. These four dams produce less than 5 percent of the region's electricity, but kill over 80 percent of migrating salmon. (bluefish corrects:juvenile salmon mortality do to Lower Snake River dams is 72% of fall chinook, 30% of spring chinook and steelhead. Adult mortality may not be any worse than before these dams were in place. See www.bluefish.org/dampool.htm for averages from the 1990s as reported by NOAA Fisheries.) Yet the federal government continues to ignore numerous studies-including their own 2000 recovery plan-identifying removal of these dams as the most effective long-term solution.
Which brings us back to the Fish Passage Center, the latest in a long line of messengers telling the government-and the BPA-what it doesn't want to hear. Current recovery efforts are failing, fish populations are declining, and tax dollars are being squandered. Instead of accepting these scientific conclusions and enacting its own best solution-removing the lower Snake dams-the federal government is set on proposing the same old plans while expecting new results. And when reality doesn't match-up they do what any good hatter does: shoot the messenger.
Unfortunately, the Fish Passage Center was one of the few remaining anchors to reality. Now taxpayers will be the only thing left on the hook as salmon numbers dwindle toward extinction.
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