the film
Commentaries and editorials

NMFS Outlines Options for Northwest Salmon

by Margot Higgins
Environmental News Network - November 19, 1999

A working paper outlining a range of alternatives that, if implemented, could lead to salmon recovery, was released by the National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday.

Dubbed the 4-H paper, the Hs refer to human activities that harm salmon -- habitat degradation, hatchery production, harvest activities and hydropower operations. The 16-page paper summarizes how those activities affect each stage of the salmon life cycle and describes recovery options.

"The paper was written with two major goals in mind: to lay out the basic options for salmon recovery and to stimulate a constructive debate among the governments and the people of the region on those options, " said William Stelle, head of the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest region.

The 4-H paper is one of four decision-making papers that will be considered when the service issues a biological opinion on the state of all Snake River stocks in the spring of 2000.

A host of environmental groups, including American Rivers, Oregon Natural Resources Council and Save our Wild Salmon, all advocate breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River in order to save the salmon. The dams in question include Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams.

If the dams are not removed, new restrictions on logging, fish harvest, shipping channel deepening, and irrigated agriculture would be needed to avoid the extinction of five runs of Snake River salmon and steelhead, the paper says.

Environmentalists say those alternatives are not favorable.

"This is a wake up call to the region that there is no easy way out," said Rob Masonis, Northwest director for American Rivers. "Alternatives to dam removal may be both more economically painful than dam removal and less effective," he said.

"Somewhere in the system you need to make significant changes," said Masonis. "If the dams are not removed, we may well be forced to acquire 1 million acre-feet of water from Southern Idaho irrigators, taking up to 643,000 acres of land out of production, eliminating more than 6,500 jobs and eliminating as much as $430 million in income."

According to American Rivers, the National Marine Fisheries service continues to down play the importance of dam removal by underestimating dam-related salmon mortality.

Even so, NMFS acknowledges that dam removal alone may be enough to restore fall chinook and steelhead, and would make a significant contribution to spring/summer chinook recovery. In fact, dam removal is the only recovery action that would provide substantial benefits for all listed stocks.

"If we don't remove the dams, the region will be covered by the dark cloud of uncertainty," Masonis said. "We would trade the best recovery option with known, affordable costs for a bag of severe new harvest reductions and undefined habitat actions with scant scientific support, no timelines and no price tag. That is a dangerous gamble when several stocks are at immediate risk of extinction."

by Margot Higgins
NMFS Outlines Options for Northwest Salmon
Environmental News Network, November 19, 1999

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