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Restoring Salmon Now Needs Reality

by Editorial Board
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 28, 1999

The federal government's efforts to protect wild salmon in the Columbia-Snake river system continue to numb the mind.

If all the trees that have been cut down to print studies on how to save salmon were laid end to end, they'd reach to the moon and back. Now we have yet another chapter in this long-running but unpopular series.

We know how to save the salmon; that's never been a mystery. Salmon need free-flowing, clean water.

What we don't know is how to save salmon without requiring sacrifice by some people and political leadership by others. Unwilling to concede either, we've instead set in motion a self-perpetuating research machine to hunt for more palatable, easier answers.

Still, the latest flurry of government agency reports -- not to be confused with any final word on this matter -- does include a conclusion by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists that taking down four Snake River dams is the best way to help the fish survive.

Well, then. That's settled, right?

Wrong. The biologists' controversial conclusions were buried deep in the report's appendices. It's an indication of how much science will have to say about what ultimately happens to these dams.

Friday, the National Marine Fisheries Service released the report outlining options for saving the fish that's to be shopped around the region next year before a preferred alternative is selected. It's all very democratic.

"The purpose of all these documents being released is to start a regional soul-searching," said Joan Jewett, Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman.

Start a regional soul-searching about salmon?

What, pray, have we been doing here for the past 20 years and billion-plus dollars?

It's probably only to be expected that, on the same day it released its salmon rescue options, we found NMFS agreeing to let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge 23 million cubic yards of sand from the mouth of the Columbia all the way to Portland, 106 miles east, to a depth of 8 feet.

The sand and gravel would be dumped across 14 square miles of fishing grounds. This, understandably, has upset crabbers who fish there.

Dredging would re-suspend potentially toxic sediments and let the corps blast and dig in the river during salmon runs. Thirteen salmon populations protected under the Endangered Species Act travel through the river.

But never mind. The corps would be forced to make environmental amends later, according to NMFS. So not to worry.

Maybe while they're at it, the corps could engineer a whole new species of salmon, one adapted to withstand the perilous vicissitudes of a hopelessly unhinged bureaucracy.

Editorial Board
Restoring Salmon Now Needs Reality
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 28, 1999

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