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Commentaries and editorials

Turnabout: Thank Mother Nature
and Courts for Better Sockeye Run

by Bill Sedivy
Lewiston Tribune, August 17, 2008

We've heard much hoopla from the pro-dam folks in recent weeks regarding the better-than-usual returns of sockeye salmon to Redfish Lake near Stanley this year.

Indeed, all of us should celebrate the sockeye's return. But we should do it in moderation.

As of Aug. 14, 248 sockeye had made it back to the Sawtooths, and more than 800 fish had been counted passing Lower Granite Dam. That's great news considering just four sockeye returned to Redfish Lake last year. And it's good news considering that since the 1991, when Snake sockeye were listed under the Endangered Species Act, returns have typically numbered in the single digits.

But the Tri-City Herald editorial, reprinted in the Aug. 10 Lewiston Tribune, takes the sockeye celebration to drunken extremes.

If you believe the Tri-City missive, you'll conclude that 250 sockeye back to Redfish Lake constitutes recovery, that some combination of government inspired "improvements" at the dams and favorable ocean conditions are responsible for the improved run, and you'll believe that the work of saving our sockeye, chinook and steelhead from extinction is finished.

Those conclusions show that the Tri-City editors are living in denial.

Here are the real reasons our sockeye are faring a bit better than usual this year:

So before any residents of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley decide to break out the champagne and join the Tri-City newspaper in toasting the end of the salmon crisis, we hope they'll consider these facts: The bottom line - one "good year" is not enough. We need sustained increases in sockeye returns over several years before we break out the good champagne and declare a positive trend.

Without further action, this year's improved Snake River sockeye returns will be just another outlier. In its "new" salmon plan, the federal agencies responsible for salmon recovery actually roll back sockeye protections. The plan calls for less spill and more barging and refuses to consider lower Snake River dam removal as an option.

In order to keep Idaho's sockeye from fading into extinction, we will ultimately need congressional leadership and support for removing the four lower Snake River dams. We can have healthy salmon populations, a vibrant economy in Lewiston and Clarkston, fishing opportunities and a reliable energy supply. But we can't have all of those things with the lower Snake River dams in place.

So as we celebrate Idaho's returning sockeye this year, let's also ask our political leaders to be accountable for the fate of our sockeye, in 2009, 2010 and over the years to come.

Bill Sedivy is Executive Director of Idaho Rivers United, a statewide river conservation organization based in Boise.
Turnabout: Thank Mother Nature and Courts for Better Sockeye Run
Lewiston Tribune, August 17, 2008

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