the film
Commentaries and editorials

Killing the Salmon: A Stunt
Only the Government Could Get Away With

by Donovan Bramwell, candidate for U.S. Congress
A Position Paper - October 2000

Let's redraw the battle lines in the debate over salmon and dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Usually the debate is defined as a battle between those who benefit from the dams--the aluminum industry and the barge shipping industry--versus the environmentalists. I prefer to see it as a battle between the Federal government and the citizens.

In the 1930s, the Federal government began a development project that promised jobs, cheap electricity, and cheap shipping for the residents of the Pacific Northwest. Most local residents favored the project; after all, it was the Depression, and new government jobs were a welcome prospect. Those who opposed the project--Indian tribes and commercial and sport fishermen, were either pacified or ignored.

What followed was an enormous feat of modern engineering that harnessed and tamed the Columbia and Lower Snake. The four dams on the Lower Columbia and the four dams on the Lower Snake produce electricity for the aluminum industry and other consumers, and they provide a barge-based shipping route from Lewiston to Portland.

Make no mistake. Those dams are also killing the salmon. No, the precipitous decline in the populations of the Snake River salmon is not being caused by mining, forestry, farming, or grazing, not by sport or commercial fishing, not by the fishing practices of Indian tribes. While it is true that any of these activities might make a minor contribution to the problem, the fact remains that all of these activities were well established long before the salmon runs began to decline significantly. A modest decline began with the construction of the first dam on the Columbia, and the decline became precipitous with the construction of the four dams on the lower Snake.

What we have here is an example of Big Government at its worst. The Federal government used taxpayer money to build these dams, in reckless pursuit of its own agenda, for the benefit of its chosen special interest groups, with criminal disregard for the rights and interests of those who hold a stake in the salmon.

The question we face is not an economic choice between the importance of electricity and shipping versus the importance of salmon. It's a moral choice between right and wrong. The salmon were here first. The Indian tribes, the commercial fishermen, and the sport fishermen held prior rights established by treaty and by use. By placing so many dams in the river, the Federal government has either deliberately or inadvertently violated those rights. The Federal government has committed a wrong that needs to be made right.

For many of the salmon runs, there is still time to undo the damage. But the experiment is over. We know now, from the experience of the past several decades, that even with fish ladders, eight dams are too many for the adult salmon to navigate on their upstream migration. We know that the juvenile salmon cannot be expected to make the downstream trip through so many miles of slackwater. We know that barging the juvenile salmon downstream past the dams doesn't work.

It's time for Idahoans to unite with one voice and call upon the Federal government to do the only thing that will save the Snake River salmon from extinction: breach the four dams on the Lower Snake, and make the necessary modifications in the operation of the John Day Dam on the Columbia. The Federal government committed a crime when it caused the decline in the salmon runs. Let's correct the error by removing the four Snake River dams, so the salmon runs can recover.

Related Links:
Donovan Bramwell Campaign Page

Donovan Bramwell, candidate for U.S. Congress
Killing the Salmon: A Stunt Only the Government Could Get Away With
A Position Paper October 2000

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum