the film
Commentaries and editorials

Environmentalists Launch Campaign to Breach Dams

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, November 14, 2000

In a final effort to influence the Clinton administration, several Northwest environmental groups are appealing for public support to tear down the four lower Snake River dams in five years, barring unforeseen salmon recovery.

This week, they launched newspaper and radio advertising campaigns across Western Oregon and Western Washington.

"It's letting people know just how high the stakes are," said Rob Masonis at the Seattle office of American Rivers. "It's easy to lose that amid the flurry of processes, scientific reports and statements from various interest groups."

The message is clear. In the print version of the advertisement, a young girl is peering at a fossilized salmon in a museum. Below the drawing is a clip-out coupon that readers can mail to President Clinton, urging him to breach the dams in five years if nothing else restores salmon.

"Don't let a museum be the only place our grandchildren see wild Snake River salmon," the text says. "Tell President Clinton we need his leadership to save them."

The ads are sponsored by Trout Unlimited, Patagonia, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others. They first ran Sunday in The Oregonian, The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Several other west-side newspapers are targeted this week.

Public appeals have become popular in the Northwest salmon wars. A year ago, dam breaching proponents put their message in front of millions of East Coast readers with full-page ads in The New York Times. Dam defenders followed suit with a pro-dam message in Northwest papers.

The National Marine Fisheries Service plans to issue its final "biological opinion" for the Columbia River by the end of the year.

The document, which could dictate the future of the Columbia-Snake river system, likely will be the administration's final effort to reverse Northwest salmon declines.

"We're calling on the president to do the right thing before he leaves office," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited. "Even with all of the conjecture around presidential politics these days, one thing is certain: President Clinton's environmental legacy will be largely shaped and remembered in history based on his administration's handling of the Northwest salmon crisis."

If elected president, Vice President Al Gore said he would call a Northwest salmon summit to address the problem and that nonbreaching options should be explored fully. Texas Gov. George Bush ardently opposed dam breaching but has not offered his version of a full salmon recovery plan. As president, either candidate would be able to shape how the biological plan is implemented.

Environmentalists said the new ads target Clinton instead of his still-unnamed successor because the current administration has spent several years studying salmon recovery. The draft report, issued by NMFS this summer, drew a flurry of questions and challenges from unconvinced states and tribes.

Also, environmental groups blasted the plan for putting off breaching for perhaps 15 years while agencies looked for alternatives and prepared for the complex task of removing the decades-old hydropower dams.

According to one group's "doomsday clock," that would delay breaching to about the same time that Snake spring-summer chinook will go extinct.

Masonis said the draft biological opinion is "not even close" to a full recovery policy. "If NMFS thinks they can do it another way, let's see the plan," he said. "We haven't seen it."

Related Links:
Trout Unlimited

Mike Lee
Environmentalists Launch Campaign to Breach Dams
Tri-City Herald, November 14, 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
salmon animation