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Commentaries and editorials

It's About Money and Politics,
Not Salmon or Orca

by Rick Rogers
Lewiston Tribune, January 26, 2020

Rick Rogers of Clarkston is a retired manager at CCI-Speer (now Vista Outdoor). I didn't attend the "public workshop" on Jan. 7 about breaching the four lower Snake River dams. Officials presented the report on the subject instigated by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his orca task force.

Why not attend such a meeting? First, it is a monumental waste of time. Breaching these dams requires an act of Congress. This is kind of an important roadblock. I say again: Breaching the four lower Snake River dams requires an act of the United States Congress.

Pardon me if I'm skeptical about that ever happening. It has been decades since that august body (read: bunch of nincompoops) could find its collective ass with both hands. Scrambling economies of three Northwest states to "save the fish" or the orcas would be a larger subject than these geniuses could grasp long enough to even vote. Even if they did, history records that whatever decision arrived at would be challenged in court for decades. At 72, I'd bet serious money that this question will not be finally decided in my lifetime. Note I said "finally," since I'd have to die to collect on my bet, so -- moot point.

bluefish notes: Governor Inslee's Orca Task Force Question 5 posed at Hydropower Breakout Sessions, Swinomish Tribal Lands, Washington, August 2018
Q. Who has authority to Decommission and to Breach the LSR dams?
A. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has that authority because LSR Dam breaching was an Alternative of their currently operating EIS.
A constantly stated reason for examining the dam issue is that Inslee and many environmentalist groups believe the lower four Snake River dams (in particular) might ultimately drive chinook salmon extinct. Southern Resident orcas -- the most visible subgroup of that species known as "killer whales" live mainly in the eastern Pacific, presently subsisting almost entirely on a diet of chinook salmon. The environmentalists' fear is that the Southern Resident orcas could follow their primary food source to extinction.
bluefish notes: Salish Sea Orca expert, Ken Balcomb has this to say in his Minority Opinion to Orca Task Force (see Appendix 5):
Throughout the meetings I have been dismayed that the discussion of bypass of the four Lower Snake River dams (Recommendation 9) did not get more traction, given that action would offer the most immediate and dramatic increase in returning adult Chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia River and Washington coast (prime SRKW foraging areas) in the shortest time (2-3 years). The 4LSR dams never should have been built and have been an acknowledged ecological disaster from their conception. I kept hoping that you would simply initiate a phone call to LT General Semonite (the commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers) to get the facts about who has the authority to order bypass of these dams, but it seems that the consensus of the Task Force was to establish a time-consuming several year stakeholder process to address issues associated with the possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams, rather than get the facts now and/or make a bold recommendation. The number one fact, who has the authority, can be answered in a phone call, but it seems that the forces against bypass want to keep everyone confused. As a result, recommendation number 9 now slips into a less meaningful timeframe and back into the quibbling that has gone on for decades while the salmon and SRKW continue to dwindle. My discussions with career salmon biologists who studied the spill option (#8) and NOAA’s own reports conclude that following that recommendation will not lead to salmon recovery, either. So it looks like the SRKW are stuck with the failed status quo.
Let's try some logic here. Suppose that suddenly there was no beef in any form available for human consumption on America's West Coast. Is it really likely that all the resident humans would be unable to find sufficient food? Well, pardon my French, but, hell no.

Adult counts of wild Chinook and Steelhead returning to Idaho (source: Idaho Fish & Game) It is impossibly unlikely (sic) that a creature such as the orca, which has evolved to be the second most successful sea predator (after sharks) during millions of years, would starve to extinction if one of the millions of fish types in the oceans disappeared during a few generations.

Orcas (which undoubtedly evolved and adapted from eating other critters in the first place to dining on seasonal chinook) would adapt. Every predator on Earth, particularly those protected (by man) from being preyed upon (by man), has done just that.

But this isn't really about the orcas or chinooks, is it?

It's about money and politics. Inslee needs environmental activists to support his new run for governor. The activists need causes to attract money from their members and the general public, to then funnel to His Governorship. Whether it is about the reintroduction of Canadian wolves, or "saving the orcas" on the coast, these causes help people to feel really good about donating money. Both Inslee and the environmental activists have become experts at tugging cash out of the gullible public's emotional wallet. The money didn't get Inslee near the presidency, so he'll use it for the governor's race. No logic is required.

The Lewiston Tribune reported there weren't any new ideas. Participants regurgitated the same decades-old arguments. I'd be surprised if any attendees left the meeting with changed minds or even feeling more positive about any solution. This is at least partly because no actual solutions were proposed. Mostly, old problems were simply repeated, the highest priority being the obvious need to make sure that there is some effective way to get local products to world markets without the dams.

Though Inslee's useless report focused on examining the costs of living after the dams are removed, glaring omissions remain. First is an estimate of the physical cost of removing the dams and side issues such as how the environment will tolerate the activity of demolishing so much concrete and removing it from the channel.

bluefish notes:
"Trying to take a down dam is not very difficult. It's a lot easier than putting them up." Federal Judge James Redden, April 2012.
"... by just digging out the ditch" he continues, and the earthen embankment removal is modeled in this YouTube explanation.
Though the presenters tried hard to put lipstick on this pig of an idea and label the $750,000 report as money well spent, there was virtually no evidence that's true. For decades, fish proponents and dam proponents have pushed government to throw more money at more studies and environmental impact statements. In reality, it's been about making the public believe it's about the fish, while gambling with the economy of three Northwest states.

Note that throughout it all, government employees and environmental activists have all had their paying jobs on both sides of their manufactured controversy.

That, of course, really is the point of it all.

Related Pages:
Dam Breaching Incurs the Law of Unintended Consequences by Rick Rogers, Lewiston Tribune, 9/8/19

Rick Rogers of Clarkston is a retired manager at CCI-Speer (now Vista Outdoor).
It's About Money and Politics, Not Salmon or Orca
Lewiston Tribune, January 26, 2020

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