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Commentaries and editorials

No Silver Bullet

by Glen Vanselow
The Idaho Statesman, August 9, 1997

We do not agree with The Idaho Statesman's conclusions that breaching the lower Snake River dams will restore salmon runs and improve Idaho's economy.

Breaching dams is not a silver bullet. The NMFS Recovery Team, the National Academy of Science and Independent Scientific Group have different recommendations, but they all agree there is no silver bullet. No single action, even breaching dams, will solve the problem. The Statesman's three-day series did not take into account that significant mortality occurs prior to the smolts reaching Lewiston, that survival in the reservoirs is much higher than was thought when drawdowns were first proposed, that barged fish consistently return at rates approximately double those left in river, that ocean conditions have tremendous impact and that drawdown or dam breaching could cause more harm than good for salmon.

Breaching dams is not the low-cost, high-benefit solution. The most effective current measure, fish transportation, is also the least expensive. It, combined with other mainstream improvements, tributary habitat improvement and the reduced harvest The Statesman advocates, will provide recovery benefits at far lower cost than breaching dams.

The Statesman also has dramatically overestimated benefits. The $98 million benefit from ending barge transportation is a case in point. It is an apples-to-oranges comparison of barging and rail. The comparison includes capital construction cost for navigation locks, but not the cost of railroad land grants, rights of way or grade crossings. It includes property taxes paid by port tenants. The bottom line is that shippers from Idaho and from other Northwest and non-Northwest states pay $5 per ton less to ship by barge.

We have already spent too many billions of dollars without sufficient benefit. Spending billions more on breaching dams will not save the salmon or benefit the economy.

Glen Vanselow, executive director, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, Vancouver, Wash.
No Silver Bullet
The Idaho Statesman, August 9, 1997

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