No Rush on Dam BreachingEditorial, The Oregonian - September 5, 1999
Decision on how to fix Snake River dams must be based on
credible scientific data that may take time to gather
The National Marine Fisheries Service caused some consternation last week when it announced it may delay its recommendations about whether to breach four Snake River Dams to aid salmon migration.
The debate has occupied center stage in the broad argument over saving endangered salmon for so long that other topics get squeezed out, and, in a sense, it would be nice to have it resolved.
But the fisheries service deserves credit for approaching the issue carefully and thoughtfully. Dam removal is, after all, a decision that is virtually irreversible. And the federal agency said maybe the region should give higher priority to having the best scientific evidence than to meeting a deadline to make a decision. That's a sensible suggestion.
Toward that end, the service plans to meet with eight other federal agencies that have a stake in salmon recovery to assess the scientific evidence.
That examination is to include all of the recovery options, encompassing the entire salmon life cycle. That is sensible, too, since there is only so much of the cycle over which people have control -- hydro operations, harvest strategies, habitat conditions and hatchery practices. In the end, the agencies may decide that no delay is necessary -- that they have all the scientific evidence that they are likely to get. Or they may decide that further delay is warranted and put things on hold.
In the meantime, advocates for breaching, who believe they have a majority of scientists on their side, are really angry that the agency would make such an announcement just as the date for decision-making draws near.
Opponents of dam breaching don't like the delay option either because they want to see the breaching question taken off the table as quickly as possible. And they believe they have the political muscle in Congress to do it.
But if both sides are angry over the agency's stance, it's likely that the agency is doing its job correctly, and looking for the right answers regardless of the political pressure.
The decision on dam breaching ought to be driven by the best science available, not pushed through prematurely by dam-removal advocates, nor yanked off the table by an act of Congress.
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