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Crowd Says Snake Dams Must Go

by Associated Press
Spokesman Review, March 4, 2000

Saving salmon top priority for most at Missoula hearing

A standing-room-only crowd almost unanimously agreed Thursday that the wild salmon of the Columbia and Snake river drainages must be saved from extinction, and the way to do it is to breach four dams on the lower Snake River.

Since the dams were completed in the 1960s and 1970s, salmon numbers have declined dramatically, and four stocks of salmon and steelhead are in danger of extinction in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. An analysis by the Northwest Power Planning Council said breaching the earthen portions of the four dams and carefully using hatcheries to supplement fish would increase salmon populations by 125 percent.

Salmon runs have declined by 90 percent in the past 15 years.

Mike Larkin of Salmon, Idaho, drove three hours to reach the hearing because his town no longer has its namesake fishery, he told representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Bonneville Power Administration.

"You've killed our fish," Larkin said. "You've restricted our logging and our mining and our grazing, and now you've killed our fish. Breach the dams, and breach them soon."

The salmon are the buffalo of Pacific Northwest Indian tribes, and an 1855 treaty requires that they be saved, tribal members said.

"These salmon have been suffering for years and years," Thomas Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe told federal officials who met in Missoula to take public comment on how to recover healthy migratory runs of salmon and steelhead.

"We need to decide to take out those lower Snake River dams. We need to decide what is best for the fish," Joseph said.

Again and again, the crowd of more than 200 repeated Joseph's call that Congress breach four dams between Lewiston, Idaho, and Pasco, Wash.

Some speakers argued that the region is great because of the hydroelectric dams built on the two rivers since the 1940s.

"We can't step back to the days of Lewis and Clark, even if we wanted to," said Robert Bailey, speaking for the Ravalli County (Montana) Electric Cooperative's 8,400 members. "The economy of the Northwest is tied to the dams on the Columbia River system."

"Hydropower has made the Northwest what it is today," said Charles Swanson, also of the cooperative. "Removing dams is not in the interest of electric users. We need to act with good judgment, not shortsightedness."

"The fish are getting ground up in these hydro-facilities," said Rick Stowell, a retired fisheries biologist and Trout Unlimited member. "If we don't take these dams out ... these fish will go extinct."

Associated Press
Crowd Says Snake Dams Must Go
Spokesman Review, March 4, 2000

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