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Dam Breaching Not Back on the Table

by Steve Appel
Capital Press - May 30, 2003

Following a federal court decision this month directing NOAA Fisheries to rethink its strategy for protecting salmon runs in the Columbia Basin, environmental groups gleefully announced that breaching the four lower Snake River hydroelectric dams was "back on the table" for consideration.

As actor Harry Morgan would have said, when he played Col. Sherman Potter on MASH, "horse pucky!"

Since the height of the radical frenzy about tearing down the dams just a few years ago, we have suffered through a power shortage, and steep spikes in the cost of electricity, that reinforced just how valuable those dams are to the entire Northwest.

Much to the would-be dambusters' chagrin, we also have enjoyed some of the best salmon runs on the Columbia River since counting began almost 70 years ago.

As NOAA Fisheries spokesman Brian Gorman noted, the judge may not think the federal salmon strategy meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, but it appears to be working.

We also know a lot more about salmon today than we did four years ago when the former National Marine Fisheries Service was developing its "all H" strategy, which stood for habitat, harvest, hatcheries and hydropower.

For example, we have a better understanding of the role that ocean conditions play in healthy salmon runs. We have better science about genetics and the interplay between salmon and their environment. We have a better understanding of the role that hatcheries can play in boosting natural salmon runs.

Long before this most recent court decision, NOAA Fisheries launched a formal review of whether some Columbia basin salmon populations should even be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Of course, many in the media were quick to echo the anti-dam sentiments. For example, headlines in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Olympian stated unequivocally that dam breach was "back on the table."

But Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., had it right in a statement following the judge's decision. "Nowhere in the decision," Nethercutt noted, "does it say that breaching the Snake River dams is necessary or would enhance salmon runs."

Gorman, the NOAA fisheries spokesman, was even more blunt. He told The Columbian, "It's my understanding the administration will not entertain dam breaching. Period."

Of course, for the anti-dam contingent, it's never really been about salmon. It's been about restoring a free-flowing river. It's been about turning back the clock and ignoring the needs of people. It's been about turning Eastern Washington into some sort of nature preserve for the rest of the state.

To quote Nethercutt again, "For these groups, saving an endangered species has taken a back seat to the promotion of a radical agenda."

We'd like to think, as the representative also urged, that these would-be dam-busters would turn their energies to actually helping restore healthy salmon runs, instead of fighting every recovery plan in court.

But don't hold your breath.

These anti-dam radicals will continue to rant and rave. They will continue to distort the realitie3s of salmon recovery. They will continue to argue that humans have no right to use the river to generate electricity, that shippers have no right to barge goods as far inland as Lewiston, that farmers have no right to irrigate their crops.

But more rational ideas will prevail. We can have fish and dams.

And if somebody asks if breaching the dams is "back on the table," just give the whole ridiculous concept the attention it deserves. Just tell them "horse pucky."

by Steve Appel is a wheat grower from Whitman County and president of the Washington Farm Bureau, a 32,000-member organization representing family farmers and ranchers. Washington Farm Bureau intervened in the court case over the federal salmon-recovery strategy.
Dam Breaching Not Back on the Table
Capital Press - May 30, 2003

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