the film
Commentaries and editorials

Idaho Biologist: Dam Breaching,
Not Ladders, Will Save Salmon

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 2005

MCCALL, Idaho -- An Idaho biologist who argued for a quarter century that fish ladders were good enough to prevent salmon from dying out now says four dams on the Snake River in Washington state ought to be removed to help the endangered fish.

Don Chapman, 74, wants to get rid of the Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Lower Granite dams, located between the Idaho border and where the Snake River flows into the Columbia River. They produce 1,239 average megawatts of power, enough to light Seattle, and have allowed barge shipping of grain and other goods from Lewiston to Portland since they were built, starting in 1962.

Chapman for years worked as a consultant for electric utilities, arguing that man-made fish bypass systems on the dams such as ladders and barges were enough to keep salmon populations viable. He's now whistling a different tune, believing that warming of the Columbia River and its tributaries and changes in the Pacific Ocean that may be caused by global warming necessitate breaching of barriers to help fish migrate upstream.

Chapman says his change of heart has scientific and political origins: He believes President Bush's salmon recovery plan, which characterizes dams as an insignificant factor in the survival of salmon, on grounds that they were there at the time the fish were listed under the Endangered Species Act, is flawed.

"It's so contrary to logic and common sense that I feel offended," Chapman said.

Some runs of salmon that swim up the Columbia River toward the Snake and its tributaries in Idaho have been listed under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1992.

In May, U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., rejected the Bush administration's plan for protecting salmon from federal dams. Redden then ordered federal dam operators to spill water over the dams, at a cost of $67 million to Bonneville Power Administration ratepayers this summer, to help the fish.

Environmental groups, including the Save our Wild Salmon coalition, as well as American Indian tribes such as Idaho's Nez Perce who use salmon for ceremonial and subsistence purposes, advocate the removal of the four Snake River dams, saying it's needed to help the fish recover.

Six years ago, Chapman was among a minority within the Idaho section of the American Fisheries Society who said breaching dams wasn't necessary to restore historic runs that are viewed as an economic boon to riverside sporting towns such as Riggins and Salmon in Idaho.

Most members of the section favored removing the dams.

Now that Chapman has switched sides in the debate, some fish scientists have perked up their ears.

"When Don says it, you kind of stand up and take notice," said Chuck Peven, fisheries program manager for the Chelan Public Utilities District in Washington, which operates dams on the Columbia River.

Still, neither Peven nor advocates of industries that rely on inland ports created by the dams in Lewiston and Clarkston, Wash. are ready to join Chapman. Al Georgi, the man who took over Chapman's consulting business seven years ago, also believes that the complicated relationship between water, dams, fish and climate that influence the health of salmon populations must be studied before any dams are removed - regardless of what the man he calls a salmon "guru" thinks now.

"It's a nice story (Chapman's change of heart), but there are a lot of linkages here that need to be examined thoroughly," said Georgi, a fisheries consultant.

Owen Squires, the director of the Rocky Mountain Region for Pulp and Paperworkers Resource Council and active in the Lewiston-based group Save our Dams, is still against toppling the dams.

"Breaching those dams is a radical, one-way step," Squires said. "Once we do it, we can't reverse it."

Associated Press
Idaho Biologist: Dam Breaching, Not Ladders, Will Save Salmon
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 2005

Let's rebuild this Mother Earth.

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
contact forum
salmon animation