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Commentaries and editorials

Landowners Group Says People's Needs
Have Priority Over Salmon

by Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian, March 26, 2000

Speakers discuss the potential effects of fish-protection efforts at a land-use forum

WILSONVILLE -- Human needs should come before those of fish, a parade of speakers said Saturday at Oregonians in Action's annual land-use forum.

The nonprofit group, based in Tigard, promotes the rights of landowners and often finds itself allied with home builders and against 1000 Friends of Oregon on how strictly Oregon laws should rein in rural development.

Of late, OIA has been questioning the reasoning behind proposals to breach dams, protect river habitat and limit commercial fishing, timber harvests and development near stream beds. All are potential results of the federal government's listing of salmon under the Endangered Species Act.

State Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts, who has taken on Gov. John Kitzhaber over the dam issue and is expected to run for governor in 2002, was the keynote speaker.

Roberts told about 350 people gathered at Wilsonville's Holiday Inn that breaching dams on the lower Snake River was like a doctor suggesting a limb amputation before trying alternatives.

He suggested that environmental considerations should include the notion that humans have their place here.

"Our natural habitat is a growing and productive economy," he said.

He said human efforts to protect the environment should allow for other values that we cherish, such as growing up in a prosperous town, being able to afford a home, start a business and raise a family.

"That is far more important than the future of any single species," Roberts said.

Members of an afternoon panel challenged scientific conclusions and what they termed the conventional wisdom behind the salmon listing.

No one spoke in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which ultimately will decide how humans have to change their practices to protect fish.

James Lannan, a consultant to the Pacific Legal Foundation, said it was a myth that wild steelhead and salmon had become so closely attuned to their environment that hatchery fish were disrupting their life cycles and nature's balance.

"It makes a beautiful story," he said. "I tell my wife when I listen to it that it's so beautiful that I wish it were true."

But Lannon said wild salmon runs were stronger in some areas where hatchery fish had been introduced. He and another speaker, Don Dodds, a specialist in nuclear waste research, also said there was no significant evidence that declining habitat -- streams and rivers -- were responsible for fewer salmon surviving.

Much more likely, Dodds said, is that protections of salmon predators such as seals and sea lions were the culprit. Those two mammals alone, he said, killed 155 million salmon a year compared with humans catching 250,000 salmon annually.

"As long as predators are not controlled, there will never be a significant increase in fish population," Dodds said.

Alex Pulaski
Landowners Group Says People's Needs Have Priority Over Salmon
The Oregonian, March 26, 2000

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